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How to cage a What-Next-Monster… or how to deal with uncertainty

About the author

Agnieszka Jarecka
HR Operations Director
Agnieszka joined Aon in 2016 as HR Operations Director. Throughout her career she held several experts and managerial positions in accounting, audit, consulting, sales support, and human resources. She spends most of her free time travelling and hiking across the world with her husband and 2 sons.

It is the beginning of a new year and, frankly, not much has changed since last December. The pandemic is in its swing from the second to the third wave across different countries. Here at Aon, a long-awaited combination with Willis Towers Watson is still due for approval by authorities. At home, my kids are still homeschooling online. Mass vaccinations have started, but being the last in the queue does not help with seeing a clear end of the story.

With my control-freak mind, rooted in a Polish culture with high uncertainty avoidance score, it is hard to cope with the unknown future. We used to travel a lot as a family – now we are stuck with a car-drive trip around Krakow with no clarity about the feasibility of a longer trip this year. At this point in time, I used to have all my business objectives set for the year and a clear picture of career moves in my team. My imagination starts working: summer without a real vacation, tired colleagues, unhappy family members, and myself left alone with the What-Next-Monster keeping me awake during sleepless nights.

Realistically, is there anything we can do now? We cannot stop the pandemic, we cannot speed up the decision-making process at the executive / regulatory / country level, however, we can act within our influence zone and try to cage the monster. At least in our neighborhood.

  1. Build a cage – set the boundaries

"The best way to predict your future is to create it"
Peter Drucker

First, we can try to define the unknown future – find out when is the most likely date for the uncertain area: the possible date of return to the office, the most likely vaccination date, or the next information announcement from our company, etc. This is the timeframe we can work with. It helps us chunk and cage the ambiguity into a defined term. If the date is subsequently extended, we can set another short-term plan. The more known, defined factors, the tighter the cage. If we don’t have clarity about the future, we can set the dates ourselves, or even better, with our team / group / family, based on the most likely scenario, so we can build the cage together.

Second, let’s identify the issues that make us worry the most. They can help us revisit our key values - it is good to name them and prioritize them while hunting the monster. Let’s think about what we would like to focus on and protect no matter what.

When we clearly define boundaries marking our known proprietary zone, we can keep the monster away at a safe distance.

  1. Hunt the monster – influence what you can control

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Reinhold Niebuhr

If we want to catch a monster, we need to actively chase it. The more pro-active we are, the less powerful the What-Next-Monster is, because we can shift our focus and mind on things we can control. Irrespectively of how challenging the situation is, there are always things that can be done within our influence zone and within the timeframes we have just set up.

For example, at work, we know we have at least 3-4 more months until integration might start. Until that date, we can shape our team's short-term goals and implement projects we believe would be the most beneficial for our team. When the integration starts we will have fewer opportunities to do anything else.

If we are waiting for the next career opportunity, let’s think about skills we would like to muscle up to be better prepared for the next job move and proactively train for them. Do we need guidance or advice? Let’s search for mentors or become one. Let’s ask who would need our help and support them. Let’s make ourselves useful and expand our network.

If we are desperately waiting for our next vacation adventure, let’s try to get into shape so we can jump into the water, run a marathon or climb our dream mountain as soon as the borders are open. Let’s not waste time complaining. Let’s be well prepared for the first opportunity. It will come sooner or later.

  1. Enjoy the moment – frame your life story 

“Carpe Diem”
Latin proverb

We will never have an opportunity to live the same life again. We are surrounded by unique circumstances for the first time in human history. Let’s try to identify things we are grateful for and would not happen if the world had not changed almost a year ago. I don’t want to undermine the dark side of the pandemic, individual tragedies and challenges. However, we have survived and in one or two years ahead, we will put all of this into perspective and notice that majority of today’s issues are already solved, seem much smaller than today, or we successfully adjusted to them.

If we look through a positive lens, we can clearly notice the benefits of the new normal. I have never spent so much time with my husband and sons at home. I save at least 2 hours on commuting every day. At work, we have managed to implement so many digital improvements this year across countries, thanks to their openness to such solutions due to virtual work. It wouldn’t be possible in a pre-pandemic era at such a speed.

If you feel snowed under and if it is hard for you to identify the positive side, you can try this: imagine you are sharing your achievements during performance review with your manager, or during your next job interview. How many more successful real-life cases and examples you can tell? Or, imagine in several years, as a grandma or a grandpa, you are telling a story of your life to your grandchildren – what adventures and even funny stories you can share with them? This is a great way to get a new perspective and practice resilience to bounce “forward” (not “back”), as I learned recently, with new energy.

However, the current setup will not last forever, with a NEW REALITY monster emerging from the ashes, so enjoy the moment!

There is a difference between an unknown, undefined enemy and a caged monster. You can build a cage, hunt it and enjoy the moment if you like. Otherwise, you can sit down and cry in fear… the choice is yours!

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