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Dancing with fear and uncertainty

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

I often think about my generations-back family members who came to Australia – on my dad’s side, enduring the boat journey from Europe in the 1800s; and my mum getting on a plane at 21 to come to a place on the other side of the world to her home and family in England.

Taking a leap of faith, they can’t have known what was ahead of them; what would greet them; whether they could establish a new life for themselves, or if it would be a dreadful waste of time, money and energy?

But something drove them all on – was it the classic slash cliched “looking for a better life”; was it for a specific purpose; or were they just looking for some adventure, something different? Whatever combination of factors led them to the decisions they made, they were somehow able to deal with their fears and an enormous level of uncertainty to make it work.

Mirroring my mum’s journey, I bought a one-way ticket to the UK when I was 21. I jumped on that plane full of hope, fear, confidence and uncertainty in equal measure.

Those two and a half years would become some of the most important of my life. Much of the detail is lost to the mists of time, but I remember clearly how I felt. Those years were full of uncertainty. I was far from home (despite having the support of extended family). I was fending for myself for the first time. I found and lost jobs and homes. September 11 happened and shook me deeply (as it did everyone).

It was a time of immense challenge and change for me (though unlike mum, I didn’t meet and marry a local boy and stay forever!). A lot of the time I was scared and unsure. But just like my forebears, I discovered skills and depths of myself I didn’t know were there before. I found ways to live with and lean into my fear and worry. I made new friends and took myself to new places. I didn’t know what the months or years ahead would bring, let alone where my life was going at that point. But I found joy in simple things; found peace in each moment – I went to the pub for drinks and laughs; I embraced UK food and TV shows; on weekends I took my rusty but trusty car on road trips.

In her book ‘Big Magic’, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about inviting fear on a road trip with her and her writing – but she never lets it drive. She knows it will be there anyway, so has found a way to acknowledge it and make (a little) space for it. In hindsight, I think that’s what I learned to do with my fears and uncertainties. I couldn’t ignore or get rid of them fully, but I wasn’t going to let them drive. I learned to dance with them rather than sitting on the sidelines hoping they’d go away.

This year has thrown up more challenge and change in our collective lives than any other I can remember. And more uncertainty than normal. We don’t know what will happen next week, let alone next month or next year. But isn’t life always like that to a greater or lesser degree? We just need to get out on that dance floor together!

All of us are feeling all the emotions, and that’s OK. Remember …

If you feel like you’re a boat adrift on a rocky ocean, you’re not alone!

If you feel like the ground is shifting under you, you’re not the only one!

If you feel like you can’t see what’s on the horizon, don’t worry – none of us can!

A leader I once worked closely with old me about her ‘Hit By A Bus’ plan – essentially she ensured her deputy knew everything she knew, and where and how to pick things up if she was ever suddenly unable to continue in the job. I always resonated with that idea that any one of us could be hit by that bus (or any number of instantly life-changing things). It reminded me of the value in dealing with difficult times by being more present in every moment, living day to day – dancing with our fear and uncertainty, even (or especially) when that’s hard to do.

So, no matter how you’re feeling right now, I wonder:

  • What foundations or routines can you put in place to be anchors in your day?

  • What small pleasures can you enjoy?

  • How can you keep your mind engaged in things you enjoy?

  • How can you keep your hands busy?

  • Where can you surrender and allow rather than fight?

This, I think, is how we can cope with the uncertainty that will always be part of our lives, and it’s what I’ve been trying to do this year. Mostly it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But life keeps moving forward regardless, and it’s up to each of us to learn how to dance with our fear and uncertainty.

Think back to this time last year and, putting aside all the things that didn’t or couldn’t or haven’t happened because of the C-word, notice how you are different. What’s changed in your life? Even in lockdowns, even amid uncertainty, notice how you’re growing and changing all the time.

But just like me looking back 20 years, you can only see what’s changed in your life and what has held you steady when you look back - sometimes years, decades or even generations. All we really have is this moment. So why not take fear and uncertainty on a metaphorical road trip (or spin around the dance floor!). It doesn’t have to be the other side of the world. Even if it’s the smallest step that you can possibly take, take it and see where you end up!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You -

Photo credits Cliff: Zoltan Fekeshazi on Unsplash Road: Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

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