Dealing with Uncertainty: Insights and Lessons Learned

Dealing with Uncertainty: Insights and Lessons Learned

COVID-19 has certainly put us all in touch with what it’s like to live with uncertainty. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what uncertainty means to us, how we typically respond to it, and to unearth lessons from the past to support us during such challenging times.

What is uncertainty? To me uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).

Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.

How do you define uncertainty?

When you think about uncertainty what words or feelings come up for you?

I invite you to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in relation to how you typically respond to uncertainty; 1 being “scares me to death” and 10 being “I thrive on it.”

What have you learned from past experiences with uncertainty that you can apply to your experience during these challenging times? What life experiences have prepared you to be less anxious and less stressed during this pandemic?

What I’ve noticed about myself, friends, colleagues and clients is that those of us who have had previous experiences with uncertainty and processed them positively, have coped better with the current situation than those who have not.

Here are a few examples:

Living and working in conflict zones and environments with restricted movement:

I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In Afghanistan I was driven to work every day in a bullet proof vehicle by an armed Afghan driver. We were followed by a “soft skin” vehicle with 3 Afghans holding AK- 47s. The first week I was rather “taken aback” by all of the military presence, but soon I relaxed and realized that “came with the territory”. Each day I didn’t know whether our vehicle would be pulled over by the police and be questioned about our papers and then taken to a nearby police station, or not. I lived in a state of constant uncertainty.

One day I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health where I was working and having lunch with one of my female team members. All of sudden there was a huge explosion. A number of suicide bombers had attacked the military hospital across the road from the Ministry and killed numerous Afghan medical students, patients and their families. Immediately I received a text from my Head of Security advising me to stay where I was and that a vehicle would come for me soon/when it was safe to do so.

I lived in a small compound with 2 large houses and a small building that housed our guards and drivers. The compound was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. There were 3 men with AK-47s guarding the inside our walls at all times. I had to sign a waiver and commit to not walking in the street or outside of the compound due the security situation. Sometimes after work I would walk in circles inside the small compound as I so craved exercise and being in nature. Thankfully, we did have a small rose garden on the property.

How did I deal with the uncertainty of living and working in a conflict zone? Here are some strategies I found helpful:

  • Did yoga every morning before heading out to work (sometimes with a colleague and sometimes on my own)
  • Skyped with my Sweetie almost every morning; connected with someone I cared about who also cared about me
  • Grounded myself every morning before heading to work
  • Worked out in the on-site gym on a regular basis
  • Often listened to music
  • Surrounded myself with beauty; e.g. created a bedroom that had some beautiful local art including several small carpets and a water-color painting I purchased locally
  • Started a gratitude journal and wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for at the end of every day; Also journaled regularly about my feelings and experiences
  • When I noticed some anxiety coming up, I took three deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth (releasing oxytocin, the hormone that relaxes your body and helps you feel at peace)
  • Almost every Thursday night, I connected with my colleagues; other technical advisors and consultants who were working on various projects with the Afghan government. We considered this our weekend as Friday was prayer day and the only day we had off every week. We sometimes had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows; often we sang to the guitar music played by one of my colleagues. Sometimes we danced. We laughed and shared experiences together. Sometimes we drank a bit too much!

What I learned from these experiences was that I could live with uncertainty. I found that rarely was I anxious. I learned that I could live in a contained environment and still be happy, focused and do good work. I also learned some coping strategies that I can now apply to future times of uncertainty.

Over to you. What past experiences with uncertainty can support you during this challenging time? It may be that you were laid off from a job you loved “out of the blue”. It could be that a partner one day told you they no longer loved you and had found someone else.

If you have chosen to move and lived in many places or changed your work or career a number of times, this may also have made you more flexible and able to cope with uncertainty and change. Whereas, if you’ve worked for the same company for 30 years or lived in the same town you were born in, you may have more challenges dealing with uncertainty.

What I know to be true is that it is not enough to have had challenging and uncertain life and work experiences. We need to have processed them in a positive way. A helpful framework and tool to do this is my 5-step “Art of Change” Framework. Using this tool, you identify a change or uncertain situation you want to work on and where you are on your “transition journey”. You then do the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in; such as letting go of negative emotions, beliefs or behaviors that are no longer serving you, envisioning how you would like your life or work to look and feel like and then taking action to make it happen. This framework is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. To learn more, you may access “The Art of Change Framework” at: https://pamela-thompson.com/.

I believe that times of intense change and uncertainty provide us with the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to dream big dreams and create new possibilities.

What previous experiences with uncertainty have helped you cope during this time? What tools or strategies have you found helpful to deal with uncertainty? I invite your comments below.

The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders[1], I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago[2]. …

Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.

You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:

Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.

Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.

Types of Play

Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:

  • Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
  • Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
  • Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
  • Social Play  – playing tag or playing house with others
  • Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.

 Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter

  1. Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
  2. Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
  3. Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
  4. Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
  5. Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.

Your Inner Child

Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.

Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.

Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child[3] [4]

  1. Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
  1. Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
  1. Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
  1. Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
  1. Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
  1. Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
  1. Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
  1. On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.

Parting Thoughts

Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.

I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.


[1] https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox

[2] Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine

[3] http://www.wikihow.com/Embrace-Your-Inner-Child

[4] http://www.creativecounseling101.com/find-your-inner-child.html

Change and Creativity: Creating Possibilities out of Chaos and Uncertainty

Change and Creativity: Creating Possibilities out of Chaos and Uncertainty

I believe that embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities.

During these uncertain and challenging times it may seem counterintuitive to think about change and creativity together in the same sound bite. That said, believe it or not, this is the opportune time for you to tap into and express your creative side.

I encourage you to sit down, close your eyes and take a few moments to pause and reflect. Ask yourself, what positive changes have come out of this pandemic for you, your relationships, your community, your business, your work?

For many, it is the opportunity for the first time to work from home. If this is you, it may be an enjoyable and productive experience; or it may make you realize that being on your own, you miss the camaraderie of colleagues, easily get distracted, and find it challenging to get work done. This is a gift, as now you know that working on your own at home is not a preferred option for you.

For others who own their own businesses, initially you may have experienced fear and have had to “let go” of some of your employees, and yet when you “go inside”, you realize that your business is not exciting you anymore and hasn’t for some time. You may have been feeling uninspired but didn’t know how you could exist and earn a living without your “tried and true” business or job. This is a time to experiment with different ways of running your existing business. It is a time ripe for innovation.

Now you have the opportunity to explore what “lights you up” (see https://pamela-thompson.com/believe-that-you-are-here-to-make-a-difference/ for an exercise on how to identify your passions), and to clarify your core values (refer to https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/ for more details), so that when you return to a “new normal” , whatever that looks like, you will be in a position to reinvent yourself , whether it be to find that job of your dreams or start that new business you’ve been putting off for some time, perhaps years.

What about key relationships in your life? What realizations has this time of social distancing “brought up” for you? It could be the conscious awareness that connection and regularly speaking with friends and family is really important for you. I’ve found that I want to call and FaceTime or Skype with close friends, rather than text or email them. I feel a strong need to be in community. Fortunately, I am part of a Women’s Circle that meets face-to-face every 2 weeks. We met via Zoom for the first time this past week, were creative with our process, and it worked really well. A fun and creative activity my husband and I have planned for this evening is a virtual birthday party for one of our young granddaughters.

A tool I’ve found helpful during these times is journalling using writing prompts such as: What is the silver lining in this experience? Have my priorities changed? What is most important to me? How can I change my life so each day I focus on those things and people that are most important to me?

I invite you to begin meditating daily if this is a new experience for you and/or something you’ve been “putting off” and meaning to do for a while. I find Deepak and Oprah’s free 21-day Meditation Experiences (e.g. Finding Hope in Uncertain Times – https://chopracentermeditation.com/store/product/156/hope_in_uncertain_times_streaming); extremely helpful to ground me and keep me focussed on the positive during these times of massive change and uncertainty.

It is important to express your feelings during challenging times. Drawing and/or painting may be helpful for you to release negative feelings and to create positive “pieces”; paintings or drawings that remind you of hope, connection, and people and activities that bring you joy and connect you with your inner child.

Visioning is another tool to create possibilities out of the current chaos and uncertainty. Ask yourself, What do I want the world to look like after this pandemic? Do I see more people aware of climate change and the actions we all can take to protect animals and improve the environment? What is my role in this? What actions can I take toward making this world a better place for my family, community, workplace …?

Do you envision a community where you are connected to your neighbors and have mechanisms in place to enable you to be kept aware of and able to respond to those closeby who are in need?

“I believe that humanity is essentially good and

 that we are all interconnected

I believe that everything happens for a reason.

The Universe provides me with what I need

And Great Spirit is guiding me toward fulfillment.

Nature connects me with my soul.

I believe that life is an adventure to be lived to the fullest and that  I am here to help build peace in the world.”

 (excerpt from “Learning to Dance with Life” my #1 best selling book, p. 6)

What do you believe? …

What opportunities have presented themselves/are appearing for you in these uncertain and chaotic times?

How are you tapping into and expressing your creative side?

I invite and welcome your thoughts and comments below.

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