One of the things you learn as president is you’re always dealing with probabilities. No issue comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable. No issue comes to my desk where there’s 100% confidence that this is the right thing to do. Because if people were absolutely certain then it would have been decided by someone else.
— Barack Obama
I am a certainty freak.
When considering a big purchase, I research exhaustively.
When making an important decision, I journal, make spreadsheets, and sleep on it (repeatedly).
I maintain an elaborate system of to-do lists and checklists to make sure I’m tracking every loose end.
We can get pretty good at cultivating certainty in our lives, but nothing works every time. What do we do with uncertainty?
Waiting and Digging
Waiting for more information often gets the job done.
We wait for the reviews to come out on the new iPhone, then we buy one or don’t.
We can go digging for more information, too. Not sure whether to apply for a given job? Research the office culture and take a potential colleague out for coffee to pick her brain.
But what if you’ve waited long enough and you’ve done all the digging you can? It’s no good to wait forever, to become paralyzed with indecision until the opportunity passes.
There’s another option.
Become Comfortable with Uncertainty
Like tolerance for ambiguity, it’s a sign of maturity to be comfortable with uncertainty.
This comfort is perhaps most visible in seasoned public leaders. Leadership isn’t just about doing the right thing when it’s hard to do. It’s just as often about doing the right thing when you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing.
We can cultivate certainty, but often it’s necessary to act without it. A major key to living (and leading) effectively is learning when to wait, when to dig, and when to act.