The only certainty is not knowing.
Uncertainty rules. It can be exciting, like finding out what’s behind door No 3 if you’re on a game show, or very tough, like not knowing whether you have a job.
When it comes to things such as income or stock market performance, uncertainty can stop you from making plans and prevent you from taking action.
Some cope well with not knowing, others fall to bits.
These days, many people I know are unsure about their financial futures. Where I live more people are on forced leave, and don’t know whether there’s a job to go back to. Plus there’s an increase in the number of panicked school mothers, distressed because they’re waiting to find out whether their husbands will have a job once the corporate cull is over, and even if they do, which country it will be in.
People start envying those who get the chop, because they can make concrete decisions about their future.
Living in dread is worse that living with knowledge – whatever the truth may be.
So how can we measure how good we are at coping with the unknown? As luck would have it, the IUS is here to help. It’s the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale, invented in 1994 at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. You can look it up.
As the name suggests, it assesses how much people desire and seek out predictability, and how they react in ambiguous situations. People who consider the possibility of a negative outcome as unacceptable, regardless of how probable it is, and live in a state of anxiety and fear as a result are high up on the IU scale. You can see why the inventors of it describe them as having “cognitive vulnerability”.
Seeking certainty can be as simple (and detrimental) as asking your partner whether they still love you five times a day. This sort of behaviour often goes hand-in-hand with indecisiveness. A formula sure to drive both parties mad at some point. Perhaps the person high up on the IU scale is then given the very helpful advice to stop worrying. Regardless of your ability to cope with the unknown, hearing that must be frustrating.
So I’m not going to say that. Instead I’ll say that there’s productive worrying and unproductive worrying.
Productive worrying is where you think about what you can do to help the situation. Like rewriting your CV, or looking at your savings policy to find out if you can reduce your monthly payments without being penalised, and figuring out how to cut back on spending.
I’ll skip defining unproductive worry.
We know the future exists, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in it. We’re all affected by this unknown – it’s part of our “human condition” – where we differ is the extent to which uncertainty bothers us, or how we worry.
So let’s look at the word: worry.
“Worrying” generally means thinking about possible future threats, accompanied by the emotion and bodily sensation of anxiety. If what you’re worrying about is completely predictable, or currently happening, you wouldn’t be anxious about it, you would fear it. Which can be a good thing.
Try this: thinking about what could go wrong in the future, while feeling calm. This is how to plan or prepare for potential or certain future happenings, like death, losing a job, being injured or ill and unable to work, or a child going to university. Worrying is helpful if we seek solutions to what we fear.
The moment of truth – once you hit it, there’s no going back. If you keep your job, congratulations, I hope you keep those feelings of IU close enough to sort out your personal finances before the next time you face uncertainty.
If you have lost your job, it is what it is, you now know, which is probably a relief at some level, even if you are panicked about how to figure out unplanned change.
I hate to tell you, but there is no such thing as job security. That’s an oxymoron. So get used to a life full of uncertainty. One thing that will help is to have your personal finances, including that all-important emergency fund, in order.
Good luck, and remember, the only way out is through – and at the risk of being pelted with tomatoes, yes, this too will pass.
Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself as these three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter: @nimaabuwardeh