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  • Writer's pictureLaura Burke - Coach

Leaning into uncertainty

We are living in very interesting days that will be recorded as part of our global history, with different facts and figures in each country around the world, different experiences and perspectives in each home. Life as we knew it has been disrupted. Many are calling this the “new normal” – but I’d argue it’s not particularly normal, and it’s not one new way that will persist – it’s ever evolving, like a movie being written even as we all star in it.

Except that we are not all experiencing the same storyline. I heard the other day “we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” So true. Some are navigating seriousness in health and finances that they did not expect. Simultaneously, individuals, families, organizations and corporations are connecting, helping one another, and being creative. Some are out of work, or seeing their businesses at risk. Some are working from home – now navigating other forces (kids or other family members, pets, the lure of home projects…) while still trying to be productive. Some are still at work, business as usual – like my husband, a firefighter, for whom this isn’t a ‘disruption’ to his job so much as an amplification in the risks faced each shift.

There is also no real way of predicting when this will ‘end’ – and it is unlikely that there will be a discrete ending after which things ‘return’ to what we knew before, or instantly become a “next normal.”

So perhaps it’s not that much like a movie, but still it is an ever unfolding of events that we can’t predict. I am typically a planner, an organizer. I like to set goals, make To Do lists. I realized fairly quickly, though, that to hold tightly to the desire for and comfort of predictability would likely lead to constant frustration, feeling like my life was on hold waiting for things to get back to “normal.” Instead, I chose to lean into the uncertainty, and use this time to grow.

As I embraced this shift, I started noticing that the fears and frustrations I heard and saw from all around seemed to fall into 2 main types: angst over things not being in one’s control, and uncertainty about the future (including the possibility – likelihood even – that some things will change forever).

I know I’m not alone in liking some sense of control over my own life, and the restrictions on how we live right now can be a bit disconcerting, since they impact fundamentals of how we are used to living. Focusing on what I can control helps me remember I still have a lot of power to shape my day-to-day, week-by-week. I can still get up early, meditate and exercise. I can still shower and get dressed – although my daytime wardrobe is some days relaxed (in other words, not entirely distinguishable from sleepwear!), the act of ‘getting dressed’ and feeling presentable makes a difference for me. I can still honor a routine of working during the week and not working on the weekends. I can control how I spend time that is not being used in ways it was before – playing piano, reading, being outside with the family, taking walks, doing a Master Class (or two…?).

Perhaps most importantly, I can control how I feel and how I treat others.

Many wonder: what will the post-COVID-19 world be like? Everyone seems to have predictions. I wonder: what role do we each play in what that world will be like? Will we live in fear once this threat has subsided? Shun the activities that once gave us joy? Personally, while I’m grateful for all that technology allows us to do, I’m looking forward to hugging my friends, going to a Red Sox game. I’m looking forward to being able to smile at someone passing in the grocery store, and see them smile back at me. The current threat level of this virus will pass. I don’t know when, but I know it will. And I’m hopeful that we will not let fear drive our behavior forever.

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion. - Paolo Coelho

The wisdom of the serenity prayer (with minor tweaking) holds true: control what you can, accept what you can’t, and be wise enough to understand the difference. Despite all the real challenges of these times, there is a tremendous opportunity to reflect on what is important, who you want to be and how you want your life to be. I am doing what I can to emerge greater than I entered.

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