Uncertainty is one of the worst parts of having a business.

Uncertainty is what stops us from doing the things that will get us closer to our goal. Examples:

  • What stops us from sending an email asking to help someone who seems like an ideal client? Uncertainty about what their answer will be. “What if she thinks I’m being pushy?”
  • What stops us from researching speaking gigs? Uncertainty about whether the time we spend will ultimately result in the opportunity we seek. “What if I waste my time?”
  • What stops us from hiring a designer to help us level up our website or brand? Uncertainty about what they’ll produce. “What if I hate it?”

When faced with uncertainty it is human nature to try to control the probabilities. We wait to hear more before we reach out to that client, or we try to find a method that will guarantee efficiency before we start our research, or we wait to work with the designer until we see even more work samples and read even more testimonials.

We believe that with enough effort we can control uncertainty (We can’t)

The problem with this strategy is that it is premised on the belief that you can control uncertainty; on a hope that if we try hard enough, we can anticipate, prepare, and guard against the worst of the rejection, disappointment, and frustration that comes from doing the unknown.

Of course, the truth is that we cannot control how things are going to go.

  • You might see your potential client literally ask for coach referrals, reach out in the best possible way, and she might still find you pushy!
  • You might follow a complicated but compelling speaking outreach program to the letter and get zero speaking gigs.
  • You might know everything there is to know about a designer, having followed her work closely for more than a year, and then really dislike the mockup she sends.

All three of these things happened to me this year!

Am I sorry that I did any of them?

Absolutely not.

Why? Because I know that unpredictable things are going to happen and I believe that I can navigate them when they do.

I’ve moved beyond trying to control uncertainty and instead believe that I can navigate it, instead.

To succeed at anything, believe that you can navigate uncertainty

Navigating uncertainty is a matter of being present with what is happening, seeking the information you need to choose your next move, and then having the courage to keep going, albeit perhaps in a new direction.

  1. Accept what is. When things go sideways, don’t try to force them to be another way. Accept what is and assess your options. After spending one million hours (this might be an exaggeration) putting together ​my speaking “trifold”​ and sending it to more than 500 cold contacts at colleges (this is not an exaggeration) and getting zero leads (😢), I had to admit: this isn’t working.
    It was challenging to let go of all the time, money, and effort that I had put into this project, but when I was honest with myself the truth was clear. It was time to let it go.
  2. Be mentally flexible and see what you DID achieve. When things don’t go the way you expect, it can be tempting to throw your hands up and declare the entire project “a waste of time and money,” and return to binge-napping Europe From Above.
    Instead, however, I invite you to (feel your feelings and then) seek the silver lining. When I faced the truth that the speaking outreach plan wasn’t working, I also took stock of the things I had learned along the way. I had learned where to find leads, I saw what other people were doing, and my trifold (though absolutely overwhelming) had some good copy that I could reuse. I didn’t get where I was hoping to go, but I didn’t get NOWHERE either.
  3. Pivot. When life gives you lemons, and your lemonade stand is losing money, pivot. There is not a single entrepreneur in all of history whose business has gone “completely to plan.” Just imagine the day that Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple, or the impetus for Thomas Edison to brazenly declare, “I have not failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that didn’t work,” or the day I made my last cold call to a college. All three of us (and you, at some point, I’m sure) had to look to the horizon, give a big, annoyed, sigh, and say: “Now, what?”
    The key to the pivot is to avoid the urge to try to control it. I know things just went haywire, and we’re still picking up the pieces, but our next move will be just as mired in uncertainty as all the others.

This brings us full circle: to succeed at anything, even the next move after a mess, the key is to believe that we can navigate uncertainty.

The River of Opportunity IS the River of Uncertainty

Many of you have probably heard me talk about the river of opportunity. The river is the metaphor that feels the most apt, the most rich, and the most helpful when I think about what it takes to succeed in the unknown waters of life and business.

When I’m in the river, I’m out there doing the things that will get me closer to my Great Work. I’m accomplishing things, for sure, and that feels good, but the real joy of being in the river are the opportunities! When I’m in the river, I am awake to the possibilities of projects, collaborations, programs, and clients.

Most of all, (to get a little woo) I am able to access the universal flow of ideas. Fully formed ideas drop into my mind: some of them are clearly for my clients, some of them are for me, and some of them seem to be purely just for my amusement. I’ve talked about how to tell which is which, but that’s not the point of this post.

Instead, one thing I know for sure is that the magical river of ideas, potential, and collaboration flows also with the waters of uncertainty. None of the great ideas, projects, collaborations, or clients are guaranteed to succeed. Some of them fail miserably, others are fun and fine, and some of them are successful beyond anything I could have hoped.

They are all uncertain. For better, and for worse.

You don’t have to navigate uncertainty alone!

This whole post came about because I was talking to a potential client yesterday, and she asked me, “What’s the promise of coaching? What’s the guarantee?” and I got to thinking… what is the real promise of coaching with me?

Of course, one answer to this question is tied to the goals and projects that we’ve been discussing. Maybe we’ve agreed that we’ll be working on:

  • Building a six-figure coaching/consulting business
  • Learning how to share your unique point of view in your content with ease, consistently
  • Launching a podcast, blog, or LinkedIn newsletter,

At this point in the conversation, we have already discerned that her goal is doable and that I have relevant expertise to help her. I could certainly have pointed to any of these outcomes and named that as the promise of our work together.

This time, however, I went a level deeper: My promise to my clients is to pay close attention, give them the best advice I can from my expertise, and then be there with them while they navigate the inevitable uncertainty.

I’m like a co-pilot. Or a wingman!

But, mostly, I’m a thought partner.

Are you wondering whether a thought partner with expertise in marketing, sales, content creation, mindset hacking, and time management would turbocharge your business?

Let’s find out!

I have a spot open for coaching and would love to discuss it with you.

​You can schedule a time here​, or you can ​read more about my coaching here.

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.