Dealing with uncertainty

Events get cancelled, restaurants closed, supplies shortened and home offices build.


In a way what happened surprised me. It was not unforeseen or unbelievable but a little bit far a way (in China to be more precise). Than it moved to Australia (the one with the Kangaroos) and it triggered their weird toilet paper shortage. To this day I don't really get:


Why toilet paper?


France just declared lock down for the whole country. Everyone who doesn't has to be outside - shouldn't. Companies and not essential institutions close their doors as most European borders follow (which didn't happen since their opening in 1995). For some obscur reason not being able to travel through Europe sounds more frightening than having to stay at home. Emails flut my inbox from cancelled events and reimbursements. Everything is on hold. Everyone is watching. No one knows what will happen next.


*dramatic pause*


The next 2 weeks I would have given lectures in scripting at a university in France before moving back to Germany. I would have traveled through my home country to see friends and family and than finally moving to New Zealand to start my new job.


At least that was the original plan. Now everything is uncertain. So what to do now?


"Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face!"

- Mike Tyson, Philosopher


Lost in today's virus. [img: Brunel Johnson]

Stage 1: Accept reality


The last step of grief is the first step to move forward: Acceptance


The world is upside down and reality doesn't work as it worked before - at least not for some weeks. Everything looks and feels different but still the same. The streets are empty as are the shelves in the supermarket, people have masks and gloves on and stand so far apart as if personal space became trending. Some work from home, some still have to drive to work while others lost their contracts all together and are not sure if they will revive in the next weeks and months.


There is a reason why the last step of grief in a tragic loss is acceptance. We have to accept lost, cancellation, change, difference, quarantine, loneliness and missing out before we can move on. No change will be possible without that. If we have to accept social distancing, staying at home and washing your hands thoroughly for some weeks. So be it. We cannot change that. We can ignore it and do our own thing like the NBA player Rudy Gobert who touched multiple microphones during an interview in disbelieve of the virus and was just tested positive. But what would be the endgame here (Avengers reference)? What do we win by getting infected or infect others for some more days of normal life even without the big consequence of death?


Breath in. Breath out. Accept that the world is how it is right now. Let it go. There is nothing you can do about what is around you but there is a ton you can do about how you feel about it.




Stage 2: Create certainty

(for you and others)


We have to get certain about our lives

- even if they could change tomorrow.


No one knows what will happen next week or even tomorrow but to know other peoples plans especially if they involve you breaks uncertainty. Even if it means to know that the event/job/contract/order/service/trip gets terminated.


It is never pleasant to deal with bad news. To lose important income is crushing, not being able to do things, see friends and loved ones or just suffering for things out of our control. It is understandable to feel frustrated or even helpless. Things are not as they should be.

Frustration is the result of reality clashing with the plans.

The only reason for us to be frustrated is because things don't go as planned. Unexpected situations prevented us from getting to our goal. That is frustrating. But if you think back, it is not the first time things don't went as planned - and it will not be the last. Maybe today is more exceptional than a missed train or a passed opportunity but it is not new. Maybe it is time for a new plan, a plan that works with today.

Helplessness comes from a lack of control or trust.

We cannot control what happens to us in a time of crisis but we can control how we deal with it. Write an email or call to make sure you know where you stand and what others plans are. Maybe your boss or your client already has a strategy and you are worrying for nothing. Maybe your friends reorganized the event for when everything is over. Your holidays can probably be rebooked easily, the important appointment changed or updated to remote. Most of the time things are less urgent as we imagine and "no one ever gets killed on deadline". We have to get out of our heads and create certainty.




Stage 3: Plan the next 4 weeks


A plan gives us comfort.


There is a fine line between under- and over preparation and under- and overreacting. You can only plan if you have as many information as possible and you can only react properly if you have an appropriate plan.

The questions we should ask us now is:

What will happen in the next 4 weeks?


Things could get better, things could get worse or everything stays the same but we have to deal with what is now. This means we have to look at our plans for the next 4 weeks and see how the current situation would change them. To make it easy we should put our plannings into 3 buckets:


1. Same: Some of our plans were already quarantine ready from the get go so we don't have to change our online courses, writings, Skype calls and editing. If we work with clients we should make sure that everything stays the same and proceed.


"Now we know which meeting could be an email."


2. Needs Update: Some of our plans will probably change especially the once interacting with the outside world. That is fine - we update them. Besides taking care of our home supplies ("Do we really need 5 years of toilet paper?") we need to find out if we could do things from home. Making a meeting to a Skype call, connecting with your computer at work or changing the deadline. Other plans can be postponed like our trip, an appointment, or a delivery in the hopes of change. Just be careful since sometimes it is better to cancel and regroup when the dust has settled than to postpone it to uncertainty.


3. Cancel: There are some plans we have to cancel because of the situation. Everything that involves traveling or meeting other people and cannot be updated should be canceled. Do yourself a favor and don't try to save plans that would need an exceptional amount of energy and time to save.


We are now ready to tackle the next 4 weeks and see how things change.



Stage 4: Make it fun


Acceptance helps us to move forward but using it makes it fun.


Even if we still work from home we probably have more time. We don't spend time in trains and buses on our way to work and back, no endless meetings (hopefully) and we have tasks we just cannot do from home. We end up with more time for ourselves and some of us don't know what to do with it.


Lemons to lemonades doesn't mean to make a sour situation sweet (a lemon is still a fine fruit) but to take it as it is. For some it means apartment holidays, for some to takle forgotten parts of their professional or personal lives. When did you last call your mother? While stages 1 to 3 are dealing with the situation, stage 4 is to make it useful and productive - whatever this means to you. The weirdest result you could get is: "The quarantine was the best thing that happened to me in 2020." Sounds impossible? You can look at terminally ill patients and how the sickness changed the way they see their own lives in a positive direction.


There is a 100% chance for items on your bucket list that you can do now. Maybe it is something fun like playing games or reading books, something productive like working on an idea or updating your portfolio, something satisfying like cleaning the house or fixing the sink or something relaxing like spending the day in bed and doing nothing. Just make it fun.


Stop watching the news Because the news contrives to frighten you To make you feel small and alone To make you feel that your mind isn't your own


Spent the Day in Bed, Morrissey



Stop watching the news but stay informed


In parts the news can be a problem. Negativity and panic sells and more often than not we find ourselves in more negative mood after getting bombarded by reports about the situation, horror prediction and repetition.


It is like googling what the rash on your arm could be: Probably cancer.


Watching the news is like scratching the rash and thinking about it all the time. What could it be? How did it happen? What happens next and so on. Instead just follow the plan and keep yourself informed. You have to know if things are changing to adjust so make sure to add a trustworthy news diet to your daily routine but keep it contained (like the virus itself).



What now?


Without a doubt we have a special and stressful situation on our hands. Things are not going the usual way and maybe will not adjust to normal for the next couple of weeks. We have to accept that. There is nothing we can do about the situation itself. It could help if you are an epidemiologist of course but for the rest of us it mostly means to wait.


Interesting enough Bill Gates predicted this outcome 5 years ago:

"You can have a virus where people feel well enough that they get on a plane."



What we can do is to react and get ourselves out of the helplessness and frustration we're fallen into. I am sure some of us were hit hard by the changes maybe even existentially. The more important to put ourselves together and plan the next step. A crisis shows character and change since you start to revalue things and accept priorities.


Stay safe and stay positive. Everything will be back to normal soon enough.


This is not something I write every week but it is part of the process - at least for me. Subscribe to the newsletter for more content.



Perfect Sense on Netflix deals with a similar but different problem. What if we would lose our senses? In a strange way the movie was calming. It is not an exceptional film but its themes and topics related to our situation and connected with me.


Matts video inspired me to write this article. Check it out:


Nathaniel mindfulness is always worth a watch:


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