Monday, July 19, 2010

Comfort with Uncertainty

Last week, my former employer was sold to a competitor.

As you might imagine, this creates a lot of questions for my friends there. Will I keep my job? What will my role be? Who will my boss be? How will things change? Is this good or bad?

It will take several months for the deal to close. And there will be almost no information available during that time. In fact, there are strict limitations on how much the firms can even interact with each other. So the message will be "Stay focused." A nice thought, but difficult when there are so many unanswered questions.

In Korean Zen, the masters teach "don't know mind." The student is instructed to ask himself "Who am I?" and when he fails to find a solid unchanging self, he is told to cultivate that sense of not knowing as his meditative practice. Over time, students find that the need to know, and the thoughts that accompany that need, recede into a profound and freeing silence.

"Don't know mind" can be very freeing in other contexts, too. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to see the unknowable future. The media industry (news, sports, weather, the stock market)  is as much about what might happen as what did happen. And much of what we do at work is about trying to budget for or influence this unknown future. This mismatch, between what we can know and what we think we should know, creates tremendous stress.

Our fears about the future can arise most acutely when there are big events, like your employer being bought. Knowing, and more importantly, accepting that there are many things that you simply can't know may not be easy in times like these, but it can be very powerful.


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