I don’t think I have ever embarked upon a life-changing journey or experience without feeling apprehensive. I don’t think I have ever felt fully or even adequately prepared. Why is that? I’m not the kind of person to rush blindly into everything that momentarily catches my fancy, nor am I the kind to prepare so meticulously beforhand that I never actually get round to doing anything.
I suppose at some point I realised – as most people do eventually – that you can never fully prepare for the future. You can gather information, you can weigh pros and cons, you can discuss and debate and ponder. You can strategise, you can draw up your business plan, you can write your speech and book your flights. But then the economy collapses, the banks stop lending, the hecklers take over and an ash cloud rises…
This feeling of not being fully in control of your future is scary. But not being in control of the future does not mean that you cannot be in control of yourself – after all, the only person you can control. Uncertainty, ambiguity, unknowns make fools of us all if we let them. But if we learn how to respond to them, how to be the reed in the wind rather than a stiff branch ready to break, uncertainty becomes exhilarating.
It’s the same when you enter a new culture. No matter how much cultural briefing you’ve had, you’ll never be fully equipped to handle any situation. There will always be something you haven’t quite covered. But if you’re prepared to handle uncertainty and ambiguity, you will be more ready to listen, ask questions, be flexible and learn.
‘Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.’ ( John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics and probability)