Last week I was awakened and renewed! I experienced and learned one of the great lessons in life. It happened against a backdrop of an unusual couple of months: rebuilding the XVenture business which had flatlined; providing help and support to people coping with the challenges of lockdown; undertaking a morning run and delving into the rich library of music which sits in my home.
Over the last week, I started getting calls from people struggling to deal with the new mixed economy – “how many people can we picnic with?” “have you started going into the office yet?” “is it safe to get a bus?” “What do you think of taking the kids to school – I’m worried!” “We’ve been asked back to train and I feel on edge.” “We’ve been invited to dinner next week. I want to say no.” “Someone was annoyed because I wouldn’t shake their hand.” “I’m worried about the job-keeper ending.” “If the landlord doesn’t give me a break on rent, I lose everything.”
All worries and anxieties that are totally understandable. We’re human. When we feel threatened, we overthink, get overwhelmed and over-question. We want answers to questions we simply don’t have the answer to. We want to know that the future will be okay and we’ll be secure in it.
I do my best in using all the resources and experience I have to help. As well as using my training as a guide, I’ve been through plenty of uncertainty over the years: stock market crashes; emergency planning for Thames flooding; bomb threats; planning for potential HIV/Aids epidemics; dealing with the GFC; USA touring after 9/11; four kids; global brand building and twenty-five years of Board and CEO positions. Plenty of useful experience, but sometimes we simply don’t know. I tell people this rather than everything will be ok. Most times people move forward with a renewed confidence, but not always. Sometimes I don’t know. We have to deal with uncertainty. So how do we do this?
I have some tools of the trade. I’ve used the ISO 31000 risk standard ever since I first came across it at Standards Australia in the mid-90s. Through conversation, we can model what’s the likelihood of something happening and what are the consequences. A wonderful tool for prioritisation and decision-making. (ISO 31000). I also have some Voices of reason. People who I trust who might not have the answer either but will tell it as it is. They can add a different view to us. We all get frightened sometimes. Me included. I also have a stock set of questions for myself. What will be a good outcome for me and others around me? What will I be satisfied with? Where’s the evidence that this will turn out good, bad or indifferent? What if it does? What will that mean? What will the world like if it goes wrong?
With those people who do “stress” their way through the day, it’s such a pity. So many opportunities missed and attention on the things that matter get left to the side when we have such fear.
Our recent Mind Games Virtual world program provides a good example of this. Built to grow the skills of decision-making and collaboration in an uncertain environment, we notice that some people need to be secure before they commit to undertaking the challenge. Whilst I try hard to get people to trust me, some people need lots of information before they feel secure enough to participate. After they’ve experienced it, they tell us it’s one of the coolest learning experiences they’ve ever had!
It’s simple. Dealing with uncertainty and being adaptable is a skill. It’s a habit. I spend my time working with some of the best sportspeople in Australia and Globally teaching this. It’s also simple –“practice makes perfect.” To become good at dealing with uncertainty, we need to place ourselves in a position of uncertainty. I have to come clean – I have learned to thrive in uncertainty. I feel alive, more alert and more creative the more uncertain things are. I want to help you with this if you need help.
Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t feel anxious or nervous on occasions. In fact, during this last couple of weeks, I have felt those moments too. This included delivering our Mind Games program to Ernst and Young’s brilliant learning specialists, and an appearance on live tv and radio too. Why have I got nervous in these moments? Simply I want to do my best just like you, but as we bring “being judged” into the equation, it can trip us up very quickly. I know I’m not on my own. No one is immune. It’s part of the way we are built. Fabulous performers and leaders including Elvis Presley, Adele, Richard Branson, Rowan Atkinson, Gandhi will have joined us too. I teach elite sportspeople that the best thing we can do is to tune into our own knowledge, our training and positive experiences of the past; build attention to a calm state and picture ourselves doing an amazing job and enjoying the new experience.
Yesterday I had a long phone call with some good friends over in the USA. They’ve placed all their life savings into a new restaurant/ micro-brewery. A couple of months later – COVID 19! The restaurant/brewery closed, and their life savings are gone. We spent around ninety minutes on the phone, sharing ideas on what next. Through the tough situation, we found some fresh glimmers of hope and energy as well as some laughs around the craziness of it all. A few hours later, there is a new vigour. They have done what we need to do when things change dramatically: notice it; accept it and throw our energy into being part of the new World. I truly believe that this future provides us with significant opportunities if we focus our attention on it.
I love this quote from Eckhart Tolle:
“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.”
Back to a moment of significant reawakening and a great lesson on dealing with Uncertainty.
Even if you have scanned over the rest of these meanderings, PLEASE READ THIS:
One of the most important people in my life in the last twenty years has been Gavin Robertson. I’ve not got a brother but he’s the closest I’ve got. Our families, our kids have grown up together and shared much. He will admit that the last two decades have been a rollercoaster. Add the previous decades of life and there’s a story of epic proportions. That’s for another day; watch this space! For now, I know I’m doing him a disservice by summarising him as thus: a successful radio and tv broadcaster; a very good business developer for GWS Giants a fine MC and after dinner speaker; a campaigner for social and community programs; an avid musician and a very proud father and Grandfather. Let’s not forget he was also an international cricketer. Anyone who has had to face the demon bowler Wasim Akram in a cricket test match in Pakistan and survived has significant levels of bravery in my book.
Anyhow – Gavin has spent twenty years in what he would describe as deep survival mode. Many times we would meet and he would share his worries and fears about the future. Will he have enough funds to keep supporting his family? Will he be able to keep his several jobs so he can pay the mortgage? Has he got the skills to overcome the challenges he faces? How do people view him? Notice the pattern? Is this you?
Let’s swiftly turn the clock to just twelve months ago. A call which would change his life. Here’s the short form – a call from the famous Neurosurgeon, Charlie Teo. A recent MRI doesn’t look good. A tumour in his brain the size of a golf ball and an operation is required immediately. Successfully removed but unfortunately, it’s confirmed that this is Grade 4 cancer. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive of primary tumours of the brain which hasn’t got a great prognosis. Immediate radiation and chemotherapy followed by regular check-ups. A shock to us all but just imagine Gavin’s situation. The height of uncertainty for sure. A battle of battles. The focus and attention and dedication he used to face a cricket ball at over 145 kph are now used to lead the healthiest life as possible. Gone is the vast majority of energy directed at worries and anxieties about the immaterial things in life. Gone is the time wasted on how someone judges us negatively or listening to the moans and groans of others. “Imagine this is your last day or week or month or if you’re lucky a year!” In our catch-up last week that was the line Gav gave me which awakened me. A very powerful reminder. A huge shift from the young man who famously hid in Parramatta Park day in day out avoiding being part of the human race, embarrassed about being judged for being dropped again and having no work!
As we sat together for a couple of days last week: talking; sharing stories of the past and our dreams for the future it was an invigorating experience. I felt privileged to be there and it gave me even more strength to have no fear of the uncertain. How can I?
In the mix of our time together, we watched two programs on Netflix. They both had an important message: the first program was called “Losers” A number of short documentaries about successful people who, in a defining moment, lost rather than won. The common theme – doing something or not doing something for fear of being judged. This burden becomes bigger than the activity itself. The second show – Jerry Seinfeld’s latest live show. His efforts to want people to like him in his early career was not only evident but important. You have to win the audience in “standup” or you’ll die. However, as he matured and began to learn more about himself and the World, he realised that as hard as you try you won’t please everybody and even more importantly, by trying to satisfy everybody, you end up missing out. Now, Seinfeld has removed the worry of being judged. He is a happier person for doing so.
In this next period of uncertainty I encourage two things:
Firstly – tolerance. People have different levels of fear and may find the unlocking of our last set of COVID rules as a big personal challenge. Empathy and support of each other rather than judgement will win the day.
Secondly, however we look at it, we are all dealing with our own level of uncertainty each and every day. Mine now seems trite compared with Gavin’s. I’m not dismissing mine, but I do have a better perspective and am trying hard to keep my focus to the real things that matter. The more you notice how you deal with these uncertainties and the more you share with a trusted “voice of reason” the more you will find solutions which will serve you well. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
All this takes me naturally to a powerful thought from the Dali Lama. When he was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered:
“We sacrifice health in order to make money. then we sacrifice money to recuperate health. And then we are so anxious about the future that we don’t enjoy the present: the result being that we do not live in the present or the future; we live as if we are never going to die and then die having never really lived.”
As we move into the six month of 2020; my vision is 20:20 – I face the uncertainty of the future with a deep optimism. At XVenture our Nuts and Bolts resilience program for kids hits the USA. A place which needs its own dose of optimism right now and we move to deliver our first Mind Games program into Canada and Asia.
POSTSCRIPT: As of this day 1 June 2020, Gavin Robertson has currently got a clean bill of health. He’s living life as it should be. I am currently writing treatment on his life story so far with much more to come!
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