Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As we approach 2023, there is a ringing sound of uncertainty, amplified by foreboding headlines that warn us of a looming recession, or, as it’s described in one article, “a big reset,” — a term used to describe widespread layoffs across the technology sector. The latest report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just adds to the collective discourse that we’re, well, doomed, stating that 263,000 new jobs have been added to the workforce — more than what was expected — yet the hiring economy remains extremely tight.
The reality is that uncertainty hasn’t actually risen — it’s always been there. What is rising, in fact, is our fear of uncertainty. And we, as company leaders, try to do everything in our power to mitigate it, analyze it and wish it away. But the truth is, uncertainty will always be there. We may shore up our supply chain, reduce inflation and vaccinate ourselves against Covid-19, but a new health scare may hit, a war might break out or a natural disaster strike.
As we kick off 2023, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to develop a relationship with uncertainty and get more comfortable with its existence. In fact, according to the Kauffman Foundation, a staggering 57% of Fortune 500 companies were started during a recession, so despite the fear of what’s to come, there can be a path to success. Here are seven ways to harness the unknown and find opportunity within that uncertainty:
1. Identify what is in and out of your control
No matter how much we plan, research and analyze, there will always be forces that are out of our control. Instead of obsessing about ridding ourselves of these circumstances, we must analyze our challenges and categorize them according to what we can and cannot control. For those we cannot control, we should be aware of them but also not dwell on trying to predict their outcomes. No one could foresee the effect a pandemic would have on their individual business. However, we can now think about the lessons learned, appreciate the innovation that occurred and reflect on how we can operate more nimbly in the future.
2. Reframe your uncertainty
Our tendency, as entrepreneurs, is to correlate uncertainty with a negative outcome. We don’t know whether we’ll raise the amount of capital we need, we don’t know whether our product will find market fit once launched, we don’t know whether our company will survive. The truth is, we also don’t know whether we’ll scale beyond our wildest dreams, an out-of-scope event will come our way that opens a new door, or an unidentified need for our product or service will emerge. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Uncertainty can be your biggest advantage.
3. Listen to what your sense of uncertainty is telling you
Many times, we as entrepreneurs feel a strong sense of uncertainty or fear about areas that affect us personally — meaning we are particularly sensitive to those topics that elicit a sense of fear-based bias resulting from our own life experiences. If you once had a poor experience living in a different city, state or country, for example, and are years later offered an opportunity to expand there, chances are your uncertainty bias will impact you. Perhaps you had raised money from a venture capital firm at one point in your career and that situation didn’t turn out well. You may be skeptical the second time around, potentially hindering an opportunity for a constructive investment relationship.
4. Detach from your desired outcome
There’s an old Yiddish proverb: “We plan. God laughs.” Many entrepreneurs kick off their ventures with their own definition of success in mind, and they become married to it. Any deviation is a failure. However, to properly navigate the reality of our futures being uncertain, we must detach from our own definitions of success — removing the ego from the outcome — and be open to what may unveil itself along the way. The uncertainty of such is also the joy.
5. Understand the bigger life picture
There is a bigger world out there, and it is important that we have perspective. Take a walk in nature and realize those things we obsess about are things in our own small universe. Uncertainty is inevitable, and it is foolish for us to believe that we have the power to control so much that goes on. Your life will not depend on the success of your venture. Today is a moment in time and we are but specks in a massive universe. Perspective is imperative.
7. Recognize your survival instinct
The human brain was formed over millions of years. We have an innate survival instinct that comes from the early days of being cavemen/women. For example, scientists have postulated that our need to be accepted by others stems from the previous reality that if the group were to kick us out, we’d be away from the fire and prone to attack by predators. This level of uncertainty held an entirely different scope at that time. Yet today our brains are still wired with the same survival-based fight-or-flight framework.
8. Approach with a beginner’s mind
Our lives are all made of unique experiences that are individual to us. These experiences make up the lens through which we view the world. A toddler will not be afraid of the stock market crashing. However, s/he may be fearful of being alone or not having food. As entrepreneurs, we need to remove our biases and retrain our minds to approach our ventures with the wisdom of past experiences but also a sense of youthful naivety.
As we kick off 2023, we, as entrepreneurs, have an opportunity to redefine our relationship with uncertainty. There is an opportunity to partner with the feeling of uncertainty by acknowledging its existence, asking what it is trying to tell us and being comfortable setting our own boundaries with its partner: fear. Uncertainty can serve as the pavement for our future path to success. We just have to become friends first.