What Brexit Can Teach Us about Living with Uncertainty


I was as stunned as many people worldwide at the news that England voted to leave the European Union. The worldwide markets reacted in kind, plummeting more than 600 points on Friday. Immediately, many Britons regretted their vote to leave the EU, not realizing how their decision would affect their future and the turmoil that their country would fall into.

This was unprecedented. A vote like this had never happened before in history. Now people are asking, “What’s next? What do we do now?”

The aftermath of the Brexit vote shows what can happen when people face an uncertain future. This is an extreme example to be sure, but it reflects the different ways people respond when faced with sudden upheaval in their lives.

Let’s face it. We are all bound to experience uncertainty in our lives at one time or another. It could be anything that precipitates this crisis: being fired from a job, losing a trusted longtime client, getting a cancer diagnosis, being robbed of your savings. The news turns our world upside down, and we are left to wonder, “What’s next?”

Any of these situations can thrust your life into a dizzying tailspin, and you don’t know which end is up. I can only imagine that this is how many Britons are feeling now. Once the dust settles,  things don’t always look as bleak, though they will still be far from normal. There are ways to deal with these sudden, startling upheavals. Here are a few that have worked for me.

* Don’t panic. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself time to let the news sink in. But don’t make any rash decisions or take any sudden action. Doing so can make your predicament worse. By staying calm, you’ll be able to think more clearly about what your next steps should be.

* Allow yourself to float. After losing a job some years ago, a trusted colleague suggested I give myself time to float — to just Be. It’s okay to drift. Give yourself permission to do nothing. Give yourself a time frame for drifting, though, say two weeks or one month. Use the time to immerse yourself in nature, write in your journal, and watch movies. These activities can help you get back in touch with who you are. After a period of floating, you’ll have a clearer head and you’ll have a better idea what to do next.

* Take life one day at a time. Learn to live in each moment rather than worrying about what might have been or fearing what could happen in the future. I know this sounds cliché, but this approach really does work. When I learned that a beloved boss of mine was leaving the company, her suggestion to me was “it’s business as usual,” meaning nothing would change right away. By staying focused on the tasks in front of me – and not worrying about what was about to happen – I was able to transition into the new management situation calmly and seamlessly.

* Listen for your internal wisdom. As I mentioned above, don’t make any rash decisions or actions in the heat of the moment. Once you’ve had time to float and slow down the pace of life, your internal wisdom tends to kick in. You will know what to do next when your energy levels soar and you are filled with ideas and inspiration. When you decide to move forward, say for a new job search or starting a new business, plan ahead. Write down your vision of what you want your life to be like over the coming year. Plan which companies you want to approach for jobs, or how you will regain your strength after a surgery. Having a plan for the future helps you regain control of your life.

* Realize that life is full of surprises – some good, some not-so-good. Uncertainty is a part of life too, and once we realize this, the better we will become at living with uncertainty. The existence of uncertainty does not mean the end of the world, just that the world is changing. The rules that used to govern your choices no longer apply, which means you need to tap into that inner well of wisdom to make choices. Each time we successfully deal with those periods of uncertainty, the more comfortable we become with it and the easier it gets to deal with life’s emotional upheavals.

Finally, realize that these periods of uncertainty don’t last forever. They are temporary blips on the movie screen of life. Eventually, things do even out. Keep this in mind the next time life throws you into a tizzy.

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