How to accept uncertainty – written by a control freak

Expat Life

August 9, 2020

I am a control freak and I own it. I like to plan ahead, work out a schedule, set goals and tasks. Nothing gives me more pleasure than ticking something off my to-do list or completing a long-term goal.

As someone who just graduated high school and is about to start college, I had meticulously planned out this next part of my life. From where I would be studying, to the classes I would take, the clubs I would join, and the activities I would participate in. I had planned everything ahead and felt in control.

Over the past few months I think I’ve dealt with more uncertainty than I have in most years of my life. From not knowing if I was going to go back to school, to adapting to graduating online, staying at home for almost all of summer, worrying about the health and safety of my loved ones, and now finally finding out that I’ll have to start university online and not knowing how that’s going to look. To say the least, I’ve had to accept a lot of uncertainty which is NOT something I usually do.

So how can someone who always likes to be in control of the situation learn to deal with uncertainty?

1. Recognize the uncertainty

I think that the first step to accept uncertainty is to recognize it. Recognize that this is something that you can’t control and that will, in time, work itself out. Once you label the future as something out of your control it’s easier to give up that stress of trying to control it all the time.

Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the summer I didn’t know where I would spend my Fall semester of college. I was stressing out because I didn’t know if we should book plane tickets, if I should find a roommate for college, or if I should start buying and planning everything I would need for my dorm room. I felt like the situation was so uncertain and no one really knew what would happen because of the pandemic. I was able to recognize that this situation was out of my control and relieve a little of that stress of trying to plan ahead for everything. I was still worried about it from time to time, but definitely a lot less than I would normally have been.

2. Own the things that you can control

Giving up control over life’s big uncertainties and securities, as many of us are doing at the moment, is really difficult. Something that I think is useful in adapting to this new situation is to take action over something small that you can control in your life. This way you’re not giving up control of everything at once, it’s more like an exchange.

For example, say I don’t know when I’ll be able to leave my home (when restrictions will be lifted, when it will be safe to travel etc) This is something that I should firstly recognize is out of my control. Then I should take ownership over the things that I can control. For example, I can control my environment at home. Maybe that looks like redecorating my space, or establishing a healthy work-life balance while staying inside my own house. These are smaller things that I can adapt to my needs. While I’m still uncertain about the future, I can focus on the short-term.

3. Change your perspective

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I used to think that not being able to control everything in my life was a tragedy. I’ve been able to change my perspective on this and actually see a little uncertainty as a good thing! Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be someone who’s completely spontaneous, but I’m learning to embrace some uncertainty.

For example, if we think of uncertainty as something positive, we can focus more on ‘the now’ and be a bit more spontaneous rather than always being goal focused. This summer I’ve spent a lot more time just enjoying myself with family and just doing whatever I’ve felt like. Whereas, if I knew that in a few weeks I’d be heading off to college I would be trying to sort out every part of my travel journey, working ahead on classes, and overall just stressing out.

By no means am I perfect at accepting uncertainty. I still have a long way to go before I’m completely comfortable with giving up so much control, but I have improved. I know that this issue has been difficult for a lot of people during the pandemic so I wanted to share my own tips that I’ve worked out. What is your advice? What do you do? Let me know in the comments!

Did you like the graphics in this post? They’re courtesy of my store Wildflower Studios. I recently launched a new collection of prints so be sure to check them out!

See you next week,

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