Become Comfortable with the Unknown


“Forge your own path. Discover a route from one place to another that hasn’t been paved, measured, and quantified. So many times we want someone to tell us exactly what to do, and so many times that’s exactly the wrong approach.” – Seth Godin, Linchpin

A Story About Change

My friend Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are forging their own path and making their own way. Two years ago, they decided that they wanted to travel the world. Life was too short, they decided, to wait for that dream life to magically create itself. They had to figure out a way to make things happen — their own way, right now. They created a plan for saving money and paring down to make room for an around-the-world trip of one to two years, and one month from now on October 1, just over two years from originally setting out their intentions, they will be embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.

What’s Their Secret?

Betsy and Warren’s story is very inspiring, but unfortunately, the most probable initial reaction as an outsider is to think, “I could never do something like that. I have [x, y, z] obligations, and anyway, even if I wanted to do it, I wouldn’t know where to start.” The thing is, I have known Betsy for many years now, and she’s just like a lot of other people I know, myself included, and yet, somehow she and Warren have made this happen, so what’s their secret?

One thing that struck me that Betsy said recently was, “I’m becoming more comfortable with the unknown.” I don’t think it occurred to her that she and Warren had become comfortable with the unknown quite some time ago.

I’ve watched them carry out their plan over the past couple of years, and at almost every step of that journey, they were not exactly sure what to do or how things would go, and yet, they kept going and remained confident that they would figure things out along the way, and that’s exactly what they did.

When You Don’t Have the Answers

As business owners, we have to get used to not having all the answers, knowing that if the answers were easily found, anyone and everyone could attempt to start a business, and they would all succeed at it.

I think our first instinct, anytime we don’t have the answers or when things don’t seem to be moving along as smoothly as we might have expected, is to think, “I must be doing something wrong,” when in all likelihood, it’s just that what we’re doing has never been done before in quite the same way, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Instead of immediately thinking we should change course and do things the way someone else has done them, perhaps we might step back and ask ourselves, “Is there really one answer, one right way to do this? Has this even been done before, or do I simply need to become comfortable with creating my own way?”

Working in Spite of Not Knowing

Perhaps the biggest part of it is learning to stay the course, even when the course doesn’t yet exist. There’s no path laid out ahead of you, and you’re learning to navigate as you go. Learn to keep going, in spite of not having clear directions. Create a plan you believe is most likely to succeed by studying the cues of those who have succeeded before you, but accept that you are forging a new path in many ways, so the answers may not always be immediately available.

How have you learned to become comfortable with the unknown?

Photo by Flickr user VinothChandar, licensed under CC 2.0


Rachel McRoberts

Since making the leap to full-time freelancing, I have often wanted to run back to something more familiar, something that feels safe. When work is slow, I wonder if my business is ever going to take off. (Of course, other times I am too busy to question it!)

The two things that help me stay strong are having a clear (albeit flexible) plan and recognizing what has worked. I think of the strategic social networking I tried, which led to new business partnerships. I think of the volunteer work I did, which led to recommendations and referrals. Every step of the way I have tried to make strategic choices, although I never knew quite how they would turn out. So when I get nervous, I just try to remember that today’s successes were yesterday’s unknowns!

Betsy Talbot

Amber, thanks for sharing our story. One thing I’ve learned is that even when we are in an environment that seems safe and normal, we really don’t know what is going to happen. We get divorced, jobs change, and sometimes Wall Street just collapses and you can’t do anything about your shrinking 401(k).

So being comfortable with the unknown is a good skill to have even if you aren’t planning on selling everything you own to travel the world. We work one step at a time and worry about getting to the next stage instead of what might happen 10 steps down the line. It’s wasted energy because by the time we get there things might be totally different or the solution presented itself at step 6.

We leave in 29 days for our big trip, but I feel like we’ve already been on a journey of self-discovery and pushing boundaries without even leaving home.

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