6 Ways to Master Entrepreneurial Uncertainty

image of lighthouse in storm

I used to think that successful people had it all figured out.

If they wanted to make something happen, they knew exactly what to do.

If they created a new product, it would be instantly popular and profitable.

They knew all the right people, hired the right help, set all the right prices, and pulled all the right strings of the many moving parts of their business to make it all work perfectly.

Had they attained some kind of career Nirvana, a place in which they didn’t need to struggle and worry and fail anymore?

It’s a pretty nice story, this notion that success puts an end to fear and uncertainty.

But it’s a lie.

The truth about insecurity

You know those freak-outs you have about whether your new venture will fly, whether you’ll make enough money next month, and how people will judge your latest blog post?

You know how sometimes you can’t sleep because you’re not sure about your retirement, or are nervous that Customer X will demand a refund?

You know, those fears that people will decide that you’re a phony?

Those thoughts that you won’t be able to do that big thing that’s on the horizon?

Well, get used to those fears, because they’re never going to go away.

I’ve met enough of the stars in this field to know that “the ultra-confident and never uncertain successful person” is about as realistic as the tooth fairy.

No one has it all figured out

Not one of the people you look up to is confident all the time. They don’t confer upon themselves the same degree of “expert status” that the public has conferred upon them. They don’t feel they’re infallible.

Every one of them has the occasional periods of doubt, of feeling that their next big thing might be their next big flop.

All of them put their pants on one leg at a time, head to their work spaces, and proceed to worry about most of the same things as every other human being.

Everyone has insecurities.

The difference between people who do big things and those who have the same ideas but do nothing is not that successful people are more capable or fearless.

The difference is that successful people feel the uncertainty, and they freak out a little (or a lot) about how what they’re about to do could fail, or make them look stupid, or invite ridicule, or kill their profits for the month.

Then, they do it anyway

Whether you succeed or fail — and whether you continue to succeed or continue to fail — you’re human. You’re going to be uncertain about things. You’re going to be afraid. That’s not a bad thing, because the times when you’re uncertain and fearful are the times you grow.

Don’t fear uncertainty. Use it. Master it.

If you can make uncertainty your ally and your friend, a world of amazing things awaits you.

How to become a master of uncertainty

Tony Robbins has a catch phrase that he says all the time: “The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.”

Uncertainty is going to crop up anyway, wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to comfortably live with more of it?

Here are six ways you can make that happen:

1. Embrace uncertainty

Certainty is a cage.

Sure, we all like that warm feeling that comes from knowing where we are and what’s coming next, but that’s not the way life is meant to be lived 24/7.

We are meant to grow and become more as people, and growth is always, always, always preceded by something novel and uncomfortable. You cannot evolve without new and challenging experiences.

You know that expression, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”? It’s true.

Uncertainty is your friend, because without it, you’ll stagnate, and you’ll begin to die a little at a time.

2. Uncouple fear from uncertainty.

The knee-jerk reaction to uncertainty is fear.

If you’re fearful about money, that fear comes from an uncertainty as to whether or not you’ll have enough money.

If you’re afraid of your business failing, what that really means is that you don’t know whether what you’re doing will work or if it’ll fail.

Even a fear of the dark is just a reaction to being unsure about what might be in the dark, rather than a certainty that a particularly scary thing is lurking in it. But even though uncertainty often brings fear, uncertainty is not the same as fear.

Make sure you see the difference.

3. Acknowledge fear, and hear what it is trying to tell you

Look your fear square in the eye.

Don’t try to pretend you’re not afraid, because as psychiatrist rockstar Carl Jung told us, “What we resist persists.”

Fear is not bad. It’s here to warn you. It’s saying, “This might happen, so plan accordingly.” But — and this is key — make sure you don’t believe fear knows more than it does about the future.

It’s making a guess, not assuring you that something bad will happen. Prepare, and do your best to mitigate any potential peril. Then try hard to let fear go.

Once you’ve heard the message and have prepared as much as you’re able, don’t let it keep screaming in your ear, repeating its prophecies of doom.

4. Do something

Action is the antidote to fear.

If you’re uncertain and afraid, the worst thing you can do is to simply wait to see what happens.

Do something. Do anything.

If you’re worried about money, send some emails to prospects who may hire you. If you’re worried about your marketing message, re-read your sales copy and do what you can to refine it.

Remember how I said that uncertainty and fear are the keys to growth? Well, this step is where it happens. Don’t just experience fear. Use your fear.

Chuck D. from Public Enemy said, “When I get mad, I put it down on a pad — give you something that you never had.” He doesn’t just get angry; he gets angry and uses that anger to write lyrics. Fear works the same way.

It can cripple you, or it can inspire you to do something awesome, even if that awesome thing just feels like a way to escape fear at the time you do it.

5. Be courageous

Think that brave people are fearless, and are able to do the things they do because they aren’t afraid of doing them?

Not at all.

Doing what’s not frightening isn’t bravery; it’s rational, everyday decision-making. People who have courage are those who feel uncertain and afraid but proceed anyway.

Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.” Don’t think you’re doing it wrong if you still have fear. Fear is normal.

Proceeding in the face of that fear is the courage you need in order to grow and to become more.

What fear did for me

Personally, I’ve felt a lot of fear, and I’m glad for it. Fear is the reason I’ve been able to build the life I have today, which is honestly pretty amazing.

If a serious financial crash hadn’t scared the pants off of me a few years ago, I never would have tried blogging.

If I hadn’t seen enough uncertain situations, I would never have realized that there is no spoon.

Without uncertainty and fear, I never would have figured out that (overly woo-woo or not) things really do seem to happen for a reason.

If you’re often unsure how things are going to turn out and if that really scares you, then I say: Awesome.

I say: You’re on the right track.

If you face your fears, track them down, and then find a way to use them the way Muad’Dib faced and then rode the big scary sandworms in the sci-fi classic Dune, then congratulations, you really do have it all figured out — you’ve figured out that the key to a great life is being okay with not having it figured out at all.

You’ve found the wisdom in uncertainty. You’ve realized that the key to being amazing is doing the things that frighten you.

Keep it up. Deal with your fears about uncertainty, but forge on in spite of them.

I’d close by saying to not be afraid, but that would kind of be missing the point.

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant is a writer and reluctant lover of fear. You can sign up for his free series on how to start making more money with your own writing here.

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Reader Comments (83)

  1. says

    Cool article, Johnny, I like the Dune reference 😉

    Fear can really be your friend, if you know how to handle it. Seth Godin said that fear is your compass to creating remarkable work: Whenever it tells you NOT to do something (in terms of work), then that’s the EXACT thing you have to do.

  2. says

    Fully embracing fear helps you become comfortable with uncertainty Johnny. Most run from uncertainty. Hide from it. Make decisions to minimize uncertainty, as if you could actually remove the aspects of change or uncertainty from your life. You have no clue what will happen now, let alone the next moment. Be certain of 1 thing: uncertainty. Move forward with this idea in mind.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. says

    Exactly what I needed to hear today. Just do something. Doing something is always better than just sitting around and doing nothing, hoping things will somehow magically change.

  4. says

    Last month Google had an update which completely destroyed my income online for the time being.

    I had my freak-out, my uncertainties, my fears came out and I was stressing over paying the bills.

    I had to do something so I got on the computer and designed 60 postcards offering internet marketing services to local business and sent them out with the last dollars in my bank account. :)

  5. says

    Fear is amazing, especially learning how to turn a negative into a positive.
    Not only has it created opportunity, but it has helped me learn and grow as a person, just like you said.
    Blogging is a perfect example. Fearful of what I was going to do with it, where I was heading, what the hell I was supposed to even do? It helped me determine my career and path in school, improved my craft and writing, and opened my eyes to a much bigger world — and this is only the beginning.
    Great article, Johnny.

  6. says

    Thanks so much for posting this – it’s something I absolutely needed to hear today.
    I spent a big chunk of this weekend working with friends who are engaged with the Occupy Wall Street and hearing all the horrible stories about what people are going through made me second guess my decision to go self-employed early next year. After all, so many people are struggling to find work – am I insane to want to give up my stable day job?
    I panicked a lot about how I’d handle bills and the uncertainty of freelancing, but the truth is that I just need to trust myself. I have all the tools I need to survive on my own – now I just need the self-confidence to do it.

    • says

      I’ll just add the incredibly foofy and scientifically unsubstantiated personal observation I’ve had that has no objective bearing at all:

      Things really do seem to work out in the long term most of the time.

      I think that’s part of what happens when you learn to master fear and uncertainty instead of letting it master you.

      • says

        Another way to frame that is, “If you keep working and keep adapting, you can work with just about anything that happens.”

        I think things work out because we take what happens and we make something that “works out.” (There’s some really interesting stuff on this in Jim Collins’ new book Great by Choice.) We can take the “lucky events” and “unlucky events” and shape them into a life that’s worthwhile.

        • says

          Yeah, you put it better. My friend and Badass Warren MacDonald told me that one of the reasons he felt uniquely prepared to lose his legs and adapt afterward was that he’d figured one thing out early:

          “If you throw your cards into the air, no matter how they land, you can find a way to make something out of it.”

    • says

      The universe bends to the determined psyche, Sarah.

      When you finally go out on your own, keep in mind that you don’t need to get everything right – just most things.

  7. says

    I love this. Fear of failure can hold us back. It is so much better to embrace that fear. Sure, many people can and will fail, but the difference between the really successful and those who are not is that the successful can accept that defeat and use it to achieve a future success. Setbacks happen but you are only really defeated when you fail to try again.

  8. says

    Hey, Johnny, great article man. I always tell my coaching clients that “the thing you’re most afraid to do is exactly what you need to do in order to be successful!” I experienced fear when I launched my blog, The Success Center. I was afraid to add the tagline: “Where Christian Entrepreneurs Go to Grow.” I was scared crap-less because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into “just being a sight for Christian entrepreneurs, but all entrepreneurs.” However, once I got the courage to add it, everything changed and now the site’s traffic has risen to great heights because of it. Why? Because, I found a niche that wasn’t already drowning in content and it was easy for me to rise as a thought leader there.

    Thanks for sharing your story man. I’ll definitely be sharing this post!

    • says

      Totally, Rod. It’s freaky to narrow the field, but the very fact that you had the guts to is what makes your niche so attractive to the (relatively) smaller audience that is attracted to it.

  9. says

    I’m not a particularly fearful person (unless I’m on an airplane). I’ve been challenged in life – I’ve faced circumstances that were incredibly trying and unexpected. And I suppose one of the resulting benefits was a sense of fortitude and perspective that serves me pretty well as an entrepreneur.

    I do, however, often feel desperate. Desperate for revenue; desperate for clients; desperate for exposure. It’s less immobilizing than fear, but just as irksome. And the challenge is in finding constructive ways to channel the feeling to my best advantage. I think that these same strategies that you’ve outlined work well.

    Thanks for a great post Johnny.

  10. says

    One of the most inspiring posts I’ve ready all year — love the quotes you included too.

    Despite reaching a point where I can support myself and my travels through blogging, I still face a lot of the uncertainty and fears I did several years ago. They don’t go away!

    But I’ve learned to manage them. Worst case scenario, I try to find a job with a company using the skills I’ve learned from building my own brand, blogs and social media presence. However, working for myself is too much fun, so that continues to be my greatest motivator — to keep this thrilling life as a pro travel blogger alive!

  11. says

    Wow. Well conceived and executed. Congratulations. As software agilists we live with plenty of uncertainty that we always must overcome to reach our goals, for ourselves and our clients. I’m going to steal it and pass it on to our teams this morning (yes, with your byline for credit.) Your post is a worthwhile diversion.

  12. says

    There’s a lot of wisdom in this post… why am I not surprised to find you wrote it?

    I especially appreciate the distinction between uncertainty and fear. And love this line: “Make sure you don’t believe fear knows more than it does about the future.” Uh, yeah.

    Thanks, Johnny.

    • says

      That’s the thing… when we see fear, somehow we think it must be right. But it’s just one chance out of many, and it’s guessing just as much as your rational mind is… and maybe less reliably and more reactionary.

  13. says

    I love this post. “Do Something” hits it right on the nail. When you actually do something, even when you mess up, you’re learning and moving a step closer to your goal. This morning I did something, I registered my business name with the state and I sent out a few manuscripts. Nothing is for sure, but I know that I’m taking the steps necessary to move forward.

    …I would also recommend getting comfortable with feeling embarrassed just as you do fear …that’s helped me break out of my shell a lot.

    Thanks for the much needed post.

    … oh, and I love the Public Enemy reference! :)

  14. says

    This is a profound post….I think it is worth reading everyday for a week to make sure it really sinks in. I love #1 Embrace Uncertainty because nothing will help you more in today’s world because there is uncertainty at every turn.
    Thank you, Johnny for reminding us what to do in the face of fear because I think everyone struggles with fear in one way or another at some point everyday.

  15. says

    By the time I hit the Muaddib reference at the bottom I had already connected this post to the litany against fear. Which is probably too dorky even for me.

    You grow fastest outside of your comfort zone. And really, if you’re not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and meeting uncertainty headon, then what kind of life could you possibly be living?

    I had no idea you were a contributer on Copyblogger, Mr Truant.

  16. says

    I’ve had to overcome LOTS of fears when I first started network marketing. One of the hardest struggles is to face fear and welcome it, by welcoming it, your welcoming change.
    Thanks for this inspirational post!

  17. says

    This is a damn fine prelude to heading to your local bookstore to pick up a copy of Jonathan Fields’ new book, appropriately titled “Uncertainty.” :)

    And for the record, I, too am disappointed that you did not use “more cowbell” in the post. Sad meme panda…

  18. says

    Great post. My favorite part is how you referenced Carl Jung – and correctly called him a rockstar 😉

    Most great psychologists, especially those from psychoanalytic roots, maintain the argument that “fear” is a result of thoughts or ideas that come into our mind which we have trouble integrating with our beliefs about ourselves or the world around us. We each have a certain self-concept (the ego) that will fight, tooth and nail, to not be threatened. When ideas enter our mind that don’t align with this self-concept, we become scared. Because we don’t want to feel scared or have our entire self-concept threatened, the natural response is to push those thoughts down into the subconscious mind. The problem, however, is that pushing something down doesn’t make it go away – it just makes it like a volcano ready to erupt. Those thoughts exert pressure on the conscious mind (like lava underground that pushing it’s way up for an explosion), and creates discomfort – anxiety, depression, etc.

    The only way out of this cycle is to recognize, like you said, the ideas that scare us and work through them in a manner that allows us to integrate them into our self-concept, rather than resist them. In general, the less resistance, the better. Resistance –> rigidity –> breaking, softness –> bending … that which can bend, won’t break :)

  19. says

    Fear is why I sleep with the lights ON…always; but I know what lurks in the night. Ha! I kid. Awesome, motivating words here. I must share…

  20. says

    “The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.”

    That was your quote from Tony Robbins and it almost made me snort. If the quality of my life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty I can comfortably live with, my life should be a solid gold bullion by now. Imagine living each day not knowing how the rent will get paid; wondering how to put food on the table next week and generally living from one uncertainty and fear to the other?

    But I’m grateful for all the uncertainties and fears. They made me run to the internet to search for an income. “He that is down need fear no fall…” When you’re at that state of complete and utter uncertainty, you are willing to go all out. Or at least, I was.

    This post was inspiring and comforting. I haven’t made SIX figures on the internet yet; but I’m going strong. :)

  21. says

    Great post, and very true. I work with a business and professional coach who’s known for saying “If you don’t feel fear, you’re not playing a big enough game.” It’s good to know that even super successful people have their moments of insecurity. Not that I would wish that on anyone, but you know what I mean. It narrows the chasm between those who are successful and those who are on their way.

    Several years ago I had a remarkable realization. I was in a business meeting feeling like I might faint when it came to my turn to speak. And it suddenly occurred to me what a self-absorbed deal it is to worry about what others think of you. If you are thinking about your audience and what problems they have that you might solve, your insecurity ceases to matter. It’s just irrelevant. From that moment on public speaking ceased to be less palatable to me than death. I think the same is true of any entrepreneurial activity that requires you to move through fear or fail; it helps to think about what’s really important rather than your feelings of insecurity.

    • says

      One lesson that’s come up over and over again right here on Copyblogger is the idea that courage isn’t about not feeling fear. Courage is about acting in spite of your fear.

  22. says

    Excellent post! If most people are leading the wrong lives governed by fear avoidance, then why not do the opposite and follow those fears to a better life?

  23. says

    Authentic–that’s all I can say—How refreshing to have someone write how he/she feels in such an open way…we have all been there–may be there now AND get yourself moving and keep believing in yourself. If you have gotten honest accolades and feedback….it means it was good….keep at it.

  24. says

    Thanks for addressing what we all, if we’re honest, feel so often. Nice to know that I’m not alone in my fears.

    I’ve had to work on recognizing that each person has their own level of comfort with fear and uncertainty, and that what works for me isn’t what works for others. Because I lead a group of entrepreneurs, I do try to nudge them toward allowing fear and uncertainty into their lives, but I can’t expect everyone to be okay with the same amount. I’m learning to simply focus on encouraging each person to be a bit more open, every day, to putting themselves out there- whatever that may mean to them. As you say, without pushing past your comfort zone, you’ll never know what might be possible.

    I’ll be sharing this with my team. Great way to start the week!

  25. says

    Wise, and perfectly put. I love it–“the fear isn’t going to go away.” A lot of people spend lifetimes waiting for that to happen rather than walking towards it.

  26. says

    I have to agree. I think facing your fears helps you understand that you can really go through anything in life. I think we just have to take more chances, I mean life is full of risks and we make them everyday, even though most of us don’t really see that.

  27. says

    After all when you think about it, it’s survival of the fittest and adaptation is the best survival strategy of all. Innovate, expand your thinking, think waaaayyyy outside the box, have a true spirit of adventure, take risks that have good reasoning behind them and Go For It!

  28. says

    Your candor is appreciated. Mark Twain still applies here: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Thanks Johnny!

  29. says

    I possess a sibling rivalry with Fear; We always try to get the better of the other. When I was little it was the monsters that lived in my closet. They would eat me if I didn’t sleep on the top bunk (my mom would often threaten to teach them how to climb the ladder if I was bad). But I banish the monsters by rationing out that the glowing eyes where actually the street light peering through my blinds.

    Graveyards were next. I’d cry and scream if I got within fifthteen feet of one. My high school band used to play a concert on Memorial Day at the local graveyard. With a rapid heartbeat I did it without missing a note.Beat you once again, Fear. Then the corpses came for me. I actually find this one ironic since I watch Bones and is majoring in forensics. To prove to myself that I could overcome this fear I attended the ‘Bodies Revealed’ exhibit and touched a bone. Better luck next time, Fear.

    Fear then decided to thown a curve ball, public speaking. All of my other fears were external, so this one was the hardest to overcome. I remember that I almost hyperventilated once when I had to give a speech in school. That was a disaster. Took me years to get to the point where I could stand in front of a crowd without stumbling over my words.

    Fear and I circle each other constantly. I always win but she’s there waiting to trip me up and laugh.

  30. says

    Interesting read. In buddhist teaching uncertainty or instability is the fundamental basis of our life. That is why zen-monks are called unsui (cloud and water) or shukke (homeless).

    The only way to find peace in this life is to deeply accept this reality of evolution. That might aswell be the evolution of the individual, the human race and the cosmos itself. Therefore the question of mastering uncertainty is, as we all know, asking for true answers through action and sometimes more important non-action.

    The urge for security is a quite unproductive way of compensating our lack of confindence in what is and our lack of trust in life itself. While looking for ways to cure anxiety, (which in fact might mean, to find productive ways to use that intense life energy that wants to be shared through our being with the world) then we might want to do just anything. But I’m afraid a lot of the noise, the hatred and stress in this world stem from non-centered actionism.

    We might aswell try to reconnect to that deep guiding we can find on three levels: intuition, interaction with others and interaction with the physic world. We might aswell look for true resonance with others concerning what we want and have to share and appropriate ways in doing so. We might aswell commit ourselves to look for and follow along the essential in anything we do even if it is hard or more probably impossible to grasp.

    Anxiety is pure energy. Uncertainty is just a grim perspective on something deeply enjoyable: liveliness. May we look closely in which way we’re invited to share that lively energy in the most productive manner.

  31. says

    That’s a great post. I think we should all ask ourselves “what is our relationship with fear”. I take more quality action when I get fearful. And when I feel safe I’m at my least creative and get easily frustrated. I want to be more creative and productive but I like feeling secure…….. your case in point I guess…….a paradox.

  32. says

    I like the embrace uncertainty part. We always have the perception that people do have it all figured out and it all works out nicely for other people but not ourselves. This is a great article that will help people identify with the feelings of uncertainty and do it anyway. As you know we are not taught in school how to feel fear or uncertainty. It is my hope that we learn and teach how to use it to our advantage. Thanks for the writing and the truth.
    Ned Rios

  33. says

    I love this post. It’s so true that anyone have that fear of uncertainty. Only those who take action, over the fear will gain something. In my years of running business, I face uncertainties daily. They become part and parcel of my life. Then the uncertainties get huge sometimes, but the ability to handle it, and do it anyway is better than staying there, doing nothing.

  34. says

    I really enjoy reading this post.
    Uncertainty is something that makes our life more adventurous, instead of fear it, we should face it.

  35. says

    Great post Johnny.
    Fear paralyzed me a while back. Life is very frightening when your convictions begin to falter in the face of rapidly changing world. I had to talk to my head before I was able to rise back. Your post has once again strengthened my zeal.
    Thanks again.

  36. says

    Talk to CEOs who have lead a company through a major crisis and they will tell you about fear. The most successful are those who managed fear and uncertainty with courage. As a retired CEO who has been through this (a major product recall), I can tell you that bringing a successful resolution is the greatest rush a leader will ever experience. Embrace uncertainty? No. Be aware of it? Oh yeah.

  37. says

    Great post.

    While it may not seem like it in the moment, fear is a wonderful thing! It’s a catalyst that will open more doors than you ever could’ve imagined.

    Because of my strong belief in the benefits of scaring oneself, I created Fear Experiment (http://macncheeseproductions.com/?page_id=51). Bad/novice dancers and bad/novice improvisers sign up solo along with 19 other strangers to work with a teacher for three months and then perform their art form in front of a sold-out audience of 700, at one of the top venues in Chicago. While I started it just for fun, it’s been so well received by participants and audience members that people now have to apply for a spot and I signed a contract with the Park West for the show to happen two times a year. People are hungry to push themselves and meet folk via a unique ‘n fun way!

  38. AK says

    I read many books to get me going, funny, I have never had one tell me to embrace my uncertainty. This advice reminds me my biggest opponent, me. Honestly, life goes nowhere, until you do something. Thanks.

  39. Gerri Wordlaw says

    Very great site thank you so much for your time in writing the posts for all of us to learn about.

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