Grappling with a state of uncertainty

March 7, 2010 by Jared Goralnick

La Croix It’s difficult to define progress when surrounded by uncertainty.  Without a clear picture of progress, it’s challenging to focus and move ahead.

A lot of work-life, at least for me lately, is uncertainty.  I’ve begun to accept that it’s a matter of perspective.  I’ll explain how I get there, hopefully it can help you, too.


Hope and Intention

I had a conversation with Dave Binetti the other day about the word ‘hope’.  I had just MMS’d a friend the photo above, but had no idea if she would receive it (depending on her phone/carrier).

“I hope she gets the photo, but with MMS you never know."

"That’s one of the few uses of ‘hope’ that I’m okay with.  I’ve stopped using that word, because to me it’s a red flag for someone saying they don’t have a plan."

Dave went on to explain that start-up founders shouldn’t ‘hope’ certain things will happen, but have a way of getting to those things.  They should "’intend’ to have 3,000 users by Q3," for instance.

But I do use the word ‘hope’, a lot.  My three New Year’s resolutions are yearlong goals with a windy path toward achievement…and generally I’m doing the best I can to get there.  I hope to accomplish all three goals—though I’ve made serious progress on them, it’s still a matter of uncertainty.

In the mean time, it’s been mentally taxing.  But perhaps Dave was on to something—perhaps it is a matter of getting from ‘hope’ to ‘intend’.

Video Games and Statistics

When I explained my mental state to another friend the other day, she said "you’re moving to a greater level of statistical probability."  Or something like that.
It took me a second to digest:

Though starting over was still a likely prospect, I was making progress.  Like in a video game, I might die on level 4, but I wouldn’t get to level 6 if I didn’t get past 1 and 2.  And, should I have to start over, I might make it through some of the other levels quicker next time.  (Or maybe not.)

This isn’t exactly rocket science.  But knowing that my likeliness of success was at least becoming more statistically possible was comforting to me.  So now I just needed to break down the levels.

Project Management?  No Way?  Way.

The best project managers know to separate the components, define the milestones, and list out the next steps.  It’s a top down process for them and a bottom up process for the team.

I do this for my team all the time.  "We intend to have a Gmail add-in and Exchange support in March.  Now you do this and you do that and I’ll write up the copy."  Easy, right?

Not exactly.  Not all goals are so tangible.  Try landing a government customer, selling a house, or finding a soulmate—there are all sorts of outside factors.  There’s a large degree of uncertainty.

Or is there?

I used to think so.  But out of necessity I can’t anymore.  Without a little feedback and progress it can get tough.  I needed a plan for even the uncertain.

I think most people don’t break things down to bite size components when there’s a lot of uncertainty, or a chance that all the work will be for naught.  But I think you have to—not only will it get you there faster but it’ll make it possible to be okay through the process.

I Hope This Made Sense

I’ve been working incredibly hard toward some difficult goals and haven’t had the clarity or the time to write lately.  So finding an inkling of clarity helped me to make progress, even here.  Does that make sense?

I intend to reach my goals.  I hope to help you get there, too.

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5 Responses to “Grappling with a state of uncertainty”


  1. Stephen Smith

    Jared, you are on the right track. I,too, work hard to keep the word “hope” out of my vocabulary.

    The fact that you are thinking about these “areas of uncertainty” means that you are making progress toward defining them. Defining something that you want to manage is just as important as measuring your progress. Sometimes the uncertainty does feel overwhelming…but when my lovely bride gets into that state I remind her “It’s just a *feeling*, not a fact. Look at the facts, make a list, then execute.”

    It may sound corny, but there it is. It works for me, it works for her, and it leads into a state of *feeling* like you are in command. Which is much better than the alternative.

    “Whether You Think You Can or Can’t, You’re Right”–Henry Ford

  2. Bobby Thompson

    Jared.. definitely makes sense, and I love the post! In my opinion, there isn’t a single person out there who would not feel an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, at least at some point, while traveling down such as challenging path as the one you have chosen. With that said, I believe strongly that it takes an incredible ability to “trick” one’s own mind if you will, into thinking a different way than what would be the normal reaction/feeling, which in this case is uncertainty. If you can turn uncertainty, for example, and twist it into confidence, that is when you will start breaking down barriers. And that is certainly a difficult task.. but it sounds to me like you are on the right track, shifting your focus in a positive way. And I have faith that you will break down those barriers, for sure :)

    Thanks Jared, loved the post


  3. jeremy

    Good post. Wondering if you think that the Obama message of “hope” meets your test?

  4. Maarten

    Cool post!

    I think that for us as people this is indeed a valid idea, just as it is for businesses.

    You need to invest (time, money) into something you’re not sure will succeed. But if you’re clear on where you want to get and have a roadmap with a minimum number of steps and milestones (“break things down” as you put it), it’s easier to take the stress and uncomfort that comes from uncertainty.

    Perhaps it’s that you don’t need to second guess yourself as much while your going through the process – you know the goals and the bite size components (although not all of them) and that gives a bit more peace of mind. There’s less attention leaking to visualise the path, perhaps.

    Thanks for getting this more clear for myself too :)


  5. Walter

    Uncertainty is part of any journey to success. In every challenge we face our mind has the habit of resisting any attempts to remove it from its comfort zone. The wise knows that persisting despite the stubborn mind can lead is in achieving our goals.

    All thing are created twice, first in the thought then in reality. Don’t be stuck with the first. :-)

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