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Your Clear Next Step Blog

When the Going Gets Gray

5 Tips to Help You Navigate the Unknown

beautiful-scenery-road-gloomy-day-with-foggy-background-norwayHave you ever been driving on an early morning and hit a patch of fog so thick you couldn’t see? What was the first thought that came to mind? We’re guessing it wasn’t “Ooh, fun! I love when I can’t see--it makes everything so exciting!”

Humans don’t like ambiguity. We crave clarity and purpose, and anything gray or fuzzy can make us uncomfortable, maybe even anxious. Our typical response to “the unknown” or the gray is to avoid it. That’s why a lot of us prefer swimming pools to scuba diving. Unfortunately, as we’ve all learned, just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it goes away. 2020 has certainly made that clear. 2020 has also, unfortunately for us, made a lot of other things fuzzy, or gray, or, *gulp*, unknown. While we can’t wave a magic wand (although wouldn’t that be handy?!) or dig out a crystal ball, we can give you some tips on how to get through the gray. 

 

Acknowledge it. 

Admitting “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure,” can be nerve wracking, but it can also be liberating enough to help get us started. We can either stay stuck on the edge of what we know until it becomes so outdated that we fall into a canyon, or we can make some changes and soldier on, even when the destination is unclear. It’s not going to be fun, and it’s not going to be easy. 

As we’re learning this year, we often don’t have the luxury of knowing what tomorrow will bring or what it will look like, which can make planning feel like playing darts with spaghetti noodles. How can you plan for something when you have no idea what exactly you’re planning for? 

We don’t have an answer. But not having an answer can also help us imagine different scenarios that we might need to plan for, or create contingency plans. “I’m not sure what it WILL look like, but here is what it COULD look like, so let’s plan for that.” 

Need a mantra? Try: “I don’t know. And I don’t know when I will know. And that’s ok, and I’m doing the best I can with what I know (and what I don’t).”

Download this mantra as a desktop background here! 

 

Draw your box. 

398Sometimes the unknown can feel like this giant looming abyss that we add to so it gets bigger and bigger, along with our anxiety and feelings of helplessness. The more we focus on what we don’t know, the more anxious we become. So instead of channeling our thoughts and energy into what we don’t know, let’s focus on what we do! What will stay the same, or what facts, dates, data, truths do we KNOW? Set some parameters and boundaries around the unknown so it’s not some sweeping blob. Contain the thing you don’t know much about within what you DO know.

Brainstorm -- draw a box, in the center of a whiteboard or flipchart and label “the thing”, and then jot down all your “knowns” around it. What gaps are you seeing? Those might be good places to start your research. 

 

Be a beginner. 

Being a beginner means you have to begin. Give yourself permission to START. Sometimes it seems easier to wallow in the ambiguity--we’ve probably all been a Chicken Little or a hand-wringer at some point, and those things certainly have their place before we begin trudging through the gray. But if we’re too busy wallowing, we’re not moving forward. It’s hard to get started if we stay stuck. Just like admitting, “I don’t know”, adopting the role of a beginner gives us some freedom to fail. Because if we fail well, we’re still LEARNING. And if we’re learning, we’re shrinking the unknown. So be a beginner, get started however you can -- take action

Whether it’s research, putting a plan down on paper that you know isn’t going to work (it’s ok, you can revise it!), or talking to people and asking questions, do something. Don’t let the start stop you for too long. 

 

Find (and be!) a buddy. 

Friends bursting out laughing while having coffee sitting on the sofaGoing into the gray is always better with someone by your side. Knowing we don’t have to do or face something alone, that we’re going into the thick of it WITH somebody, can offer a small peace of mind that won’t completely discount the unknown or make it any less fuzzy, but it sure feels better going into it. Bonus points if your buddy actually doesn’t mind the gray as much as you (there are, believe it or not, some folks roaming the world who have a high tolerance for uncertainty). Lots of us have found comfort this year in knowing that we’re not the only ones unsure of what tomorrow will bring. While we might not know much, we DO know that we’re not alone. The constant consistency of a friend we can rely on and who can rely on us is huge when it comes to dealing with life stressors. Friendship can be a huge boost by increasing our sense of belonging and purpose, so it’s even more beneficial when we’re having trouble finding things that DO belong, or a purpose that makes sense in the moment.

Check in on your buddy! Do something if you can – and sometimes listening is all it takes!

 

Find (or Fashion!) A Light!

As we enter into the part of the year with less sunshine and more gray and windy days, we often become sluggish. Even gray weather can zap our energy, morale, and motivation, and a lot of us have already thought, “How much more can we TAKE?” After an admittedly dark year all around, we’re not sure how to prepare for the winter blues that might hit even harder than normal. It’s important that, in the midst of all the unknown swirling around us, we make time for fun, for something that uplifts us, brings us joy, laughter, and peace.

There’s always time for a board game or movie night with our family, a caramel macchiato on the way to work, a run on the treadmill to decompress, or a drive down a winding county two-lane with a well-curated playlist.

 

Whether it’s a project or problem that’s stumping you and you don’t know where to start, a change you’re facing that will affect your future, or a new role that’s making you nervous, we hope these tips give you a place to start, and some small steps to help the unknown feel a little less scary. Take comfort and find confidence in how far you’ve come—you’ve come out on the other side of some pretty tough stuff, and are stronger for it.

Think of a challenge you’ve overcome that you didn’t think you would – aren’t you better for it? And if you can get through that, you can get through anything.

Remember that we’re always here for you, and just know that we’re going through it together! If there’s a way we can help you get through the gray, shoot us an email! We’d love to help however we can. 

 

 

Sinikka headshot 2017

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.


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