Being Uncertain And Confident

James Osborne shared a thoughtful comment about uncertainty and the future I wanted to highlight. It’s a reminder that our professional responsibilities include accepting an unknown future without making our value seem value-less. It’s a magic trick, not in the deceptive sense, but in the management of perceptions sense. We don’t want to unconfidently say “I don’t know but still please hire me,” or the overconfident shill tactic, “I don’t know… but really I do.” We want an honest balance of, “No one knows, but that’s ok because here’s our plan.” Watch how he does it:

It’s easy to look and feel very uncertain, very unsettled about the world. This thought comes with an underlying myth: that at some point, everything will suddenly feel settled and certain. The only thing that is every settled is history (and that may be a matter of perspective!). The future is never settled, never certain, never without a haze lying over it. The past feels settled to us because it is behind us. But even that settled past was in no way easy, clear or certain while we went through it. The outcome of a war, an election, a protest, a recession; these things were always scary, unsettling, uncertain and foggy at the moment. And so, today is as well. Let’s not kid ourselves that there will be some future moment when we can see ahead clearly. There’s a reason it is called “clairvoyance” and a reason that we leave it up to carnival booths and roadside attractions.

Did you see what he did? Nobody knows the future because the future is by definition unknowable. The past? Sure. Known. The future though, no matter how certain or uncertain you feel right now, you don’t know what happens next. This is the setup, and next comes the magic trick. If he was in it for a con, this is where he’d make a prediction or whisper “but really I do.” But he doesn’t do that. He never would. Because Osborne is a pro.

Instead, he doubles down on uncertainty and slides us into his group of intelligent uncertainty embracers. I’ll add the emphasis: “Let’s not kid ourselves that there will be some future moment when we can see ahead clearly.” We’re in his group now. Next, he tells us who is not in the group: “There’s a reason it is called ‘clairvoyants’ and a reason that we leave it up to carnival booths and roadside attractions.” Right there he has us and now we know who we are. We’re not them.

It’s the professional’s job to deliver a sense of acceptance and belonging, even in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Osborne knows just how to do it. Read his Q2 2020 letter and sign-up for his email list, it’s well worth it.

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