dealing with unknowns

The fear of dealing with unknowns keeps us from acting. Trapped by what we know, we are locked in the cage of consistency. We live and die by information, always having the answer to anything at the touch of our fingers. But, this addiction to answers and having a path always visible can paralyze us from taking action unless we know the end result. Security is limiting.

But, the thing about our little worlds is that they can die just as easily as they can start. In fact, the destruction of a world requires only that you remove yourself. Without attention a world passes away in to memory, replaced by something new, and in time you’ll display this new world for others to see.

When we pass away, within each of us worlds will die forever. This tragedy of loss is eased by how we’ve used these worlds, these small spheres of influence and control to create substance within others. Dying is as natural as living. This goes for people, for jobs, for experiences. Even though we understand death’s role in life, we still find it’s personal presence shocking.

Craving routine and consistency, we are not good at dealing with unknowns. Instead, we look at life with a Conquistadorian, shed light on the world sort of attitude. We want to control our spheres, because once upon a time we were all hurt by things we could not control. On at least one occasion we were powerless, as a person or event dominated our lives and brought pain. We believe that by controlling everything we will avoid this pain again. But, our control brings pain, because we hold expectations that do not align with reality.

We put the world in a box, and categorize it instead of dealing with unknowns. This type of thing makes sense to our rational minds. Every square peg should have a square hole. What does not compute is the realm of possibility where the unknown lives. The only thing about the unknown that we know for sure, or think we know for sure, is that pain exists there. We have our little worlds, and we want to hold on to them for as long as possible.

The unknown holds more than negative, though. The unknown is where our greatest potential lives still undiscovered. To experience such greatness in the unknown also means navigating a field of growing pains, which includes loss, failure, exhaustion, and a whole host of other “negative” things. These stretch marks shape and expand our horizons.

Our greatest fear is love, and the person we are afraid to love the most is our self. We are scared of all the negatives, and choose them over the potentiality within ourselves. We let our scars guide us, and if we just accepted that everything which rose in crescendo eventually fell mute and returned to ground zero we would embrace the unknown. This world of potential confusion, fear, and hesitation would become a place of excitement for the opportunity to live life, this only life, in the best way possible, despite the unknowns.

Knowing your Game

Stop comparing yourself to others. The game you are playing, what you want to win is entirely personal.  Making the right decision requires knowing your game. The immediate fate of a decision, or a situation can make us decide something that is not in our best interest. In the short term a bunch of factors come in to play. Maybe it is a friendship, a relationship, happiness, or money. These things cloud our judgment, and prevent us from making the best decision. I’ve studied decision theory, and wrote a book on it.

While researching this topic, and making many bad decisions along the way, I learned what drives us to make decisions. Usually we decide based on the worst factors, not the best. We let irrationality win, and make choices based on what we perceive is the path of least resistance. Maybe we don’t like to hurt others, and want to make everyone in the world happy. Or, we might desire to help others. Money might drive our decisions. The perceived effect of something, say an election, can determine our actions.

But, in the long run these things disappear and the barometer becomes only this: are you happy? As there are many ways to achieve happiness, you need to figure out what game you are playing. Do you want to make the most money? Do you want to have the most friends? Do you want to travel the world? How about working hard at things you can believe in, is that your priority? Maybe you want love and a family.

The game defines how you act, and then the decisions become easy because they need only align with where you want to be. You see, life is best lived as a proactive action, not as a reactive decision. When you can act with foresight you remain in front of any potential obstacles. Instead of things blindsiding you, you can expect difficulties and already have a plan for dealing with them.

Life is a game fraught with challenges and obstacles. The only question is, how will you deal with the inevitable setbacks that come your way. Too many become shocked when encountering something difficult, as if they never thought they would face a challenge and are incredulous at not being above and exempt from difficulties. Those that learn to deal with adversity the best, succeed the most.

Dealing in the best way requires knowing your game and taking a proactive approach to bad things. While you do not need to have all the answers what you must have is a way to prioritize when required. When you do not know your game, what you are playing for, then making decisions becomes very hard. Knowing what you want means being able to make easy decisions because you look at the long game, not the short game.

So, do you know your game? Knowing your game is one of the most difficult things to discover. Are you after money? Love? Leaving a legacy? What fulfills you? We are all trying to find happiness, so do not give up on yours because you want to make everyone else around you happy. Each person has a responsibility to attain to his/her own happiness. This is not your job. When you make choices based on the long term aim of winning your game then you will do what is right for yourself and everyone else, as well.

Putting yourself in this mindset means thinking with your heart, not your head. This means knowing the language of happiness your heart speaks and seeks, and when you make decisions with your end game in mind, with your heart, wrong decisions will never mean that you didn’t care enough, or that you didn’t try hard enough. Wrong decisions will not mean that you are a cruel person, or heartless. They will mean you care deeply. So, care deeply. Know your game, and seek to fulfill that end in every decision you make.

The key to succeeding at anything is showing up every day. When we do not see instant results discouragement pushes us to quit. The problem is not that we cannot play a long game, but that we need regular signs to show us that we are on the right path. Without those signs for motivation we doubt ourselves.

We think ourselves crazy. Why do I do this? What am I working so hard for? Self doubt sets in and we entertain the idea of giving up. We want the easy path and need to convince ourselves that what we are doing is where we need to be. When this happens, if we can just continue pushing forward, even in small increments, we’ll win in the end.

If you keep doing the work, if you maintain consistency when you doubt, then you will succeed. Doubt makes us lose our passion for a thing. Continuing to trust the work and do the work re-centers us as to why we started the work in the first place. When shit hits the fan, and the plan we have in our head falls apart in reality, hanging in there seems impossible.

The inner critic hurts the most. She wants us to give up when we are exactly where we need to be. She wants us to go back to making life easy again. The thing about doubt is that no matter where you are in life it exists. What changes is your ability to remain consistent and focus on the voices that propel you forward, and not the voices that try holding you back.

You must do what 99% of people cannot do if you want to be in that 1% crowd.

Sometimes doubt may weight so heavily on you that only the ability to produce small actions exists. Produce those things regardless. Keep going forward, even when you just want to lie down and do nothing. Showing up every day is the most important thing to success. You might not get it right every single day, but you will have more than enough opportunities to succeed. You do not need to bat 100% to win. In fact, that is impossible.

You just need to keep stepping up to the plate and swinging, even if you get hit by a pitch now and again. Too many get discouraged at the first sign of difficulty. Getting uncommon results means suffering uncommon consequences. You must do what 99% of people cannot do if you want to be in that 1% crowd. Can you do that? Can you look discouragement in the face and continue on? Can the world fall apart around you, crumbling like sand through your fingers, as you look on, powerless against the inevitable changes?

These most painful moments often occur right before we get to where we need to be. But, these times can drain us so much that we give up instead of sticking it out. We think the burden is too heavy, the cost too much. In that moment anyway. In truth, the cost is nothing compared to the reward. And what is a cost anyway, but an investment in to something greater and far better than what we currently have?

So even on your worst days– show up. Do the work. Remain consistent. Be present, even if it hurts. Because one day the hurt, the doubt… those things will look like hills from atop your mountain. Climb on.

The more time you spend doing something the more you realize that what often separates people is information. Someone doing a thing for ten years, for example, has much more information about a topic and is much more successful, than someone in his first year. Or, this person over here might have one piece of the puzzle. Over there, is another key piece. And way up there, the final insight. In many organizations information is a spigot controlled by the people at the top of the pyramid. You only know what they want you to know. They run things via a top down approach thinking that because they have more information they hold power over you. This is the traditional business structure, but also one of the worst.

What separates people is not their ability, but what they know. Knowledge is restricted so that those in control, who are not the best of ability, can continue remaining in control. The higher up you go the greater access to information you have. Knowledge helps you make informed decisions, and without knowledge decision making becomes difficult.


Look within your own organization and see what sort of barriers exists to knowledge. What controls or hierarchy systems are in place to provide structure, but instead of providing structure how do these things limit the valuable flow of information?

Are you helping or hindering people around you from accessing knowledge? Sharing knowledge with others leads to more valuable answers and increased performance. Instead of relying on the analysis of that information by a select few individuals, information can be tweaked and viewed through a variety of lens, adding color to the end conclusion. The reason so little innovation exists with entrenched organizations is because of their information flow.

Businesses kill innovation by hoarding information, not understanding that information changes constantly. Not a set quantity of information exists in the world. We do not need to fight to keep information to ourselves. We can give it away and acquire more. We can give information to others and learn from others via their interpretations. What we learn creates new information, and new information means new knowledge, new ways of doing things, new innovation.

There is a difference between showing up, and doing the work. Usually you can do the work anywhere. The work comes from inside, and doesn’t need a specific location to happen. But, you can show up only where you can be noticed. You can show up and half ass the work, or not do it at all. You can show up and preen yourself like a peacock, displaying a bunch of bluster and effort, spending money to prove that you can, walking with swagger. Or, you can just do the work.

Most of your actions when you are doing the work is mundane and would put onlookers to sleep. Doing the work is not glamorous or exciting. Showing up is exciting, especially when you can show up and act the part of the entrepreneur, artist, or financier. But, doing the work, the grind, that is so boring on a micro level but so important on a macro level.

So many want to just show up, send a few emails, talk about what they are going to do, get lunch, talk some more, and then call it a day. You can show up all you want, but if you do not do the work then showing up means nothing.

Anyone can talk. Anyone can show up. Few can actually do the work. Few want to do the work. Their egos like the attention of showing up, and hate the work. Doing the work requires finding a different motivation besides your ego getting massaged.

Doing the work requires you find something else to love. That could be a chip on your shoulder from all the people that said you’d amount to nothing. Or, maybe you love the challenge. Or the game. Whatever it is, find something outside yourself, something larger that can continue to give motivation no matter what level of success you reach.

If you value the money, the accolades, the compliments then just keep showing up. They will continue as long as you keep dancing for the crowd like a monkey. When the spectacle stops so does the ego boosting.

But, if you keep a larger aim in sight all of those other things will come. Those accolade and compliments are byproducts of doing the work and doing it well. Showing up is the short cut, and doing the work the long game. Always play the long game.

If you have been doing the work, not just showing up, and want to punch all those phony people in the face, let it go. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. You are working hard, putting in the time, in quiet, while others are basking in the spotlight and doing nothing. I understand the frustration. But, know that it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the result. What have you done. What are you doing. The results will speak for themselves. So, keep doing the work. Let those that show up, keep showing up. Their time in the light will end soon enough.