A Tolerance for Uncertainty Is the Price of Admission for an Extraordinary Life

For most people, uncertainty fills them with fear, panic, and anxiety.

An Ordinary Life

It causes them to dream up catastrophic worst-case scenarios, most of which never come true. It keeps them playing small instead of big, and in the stands instead of the arena. But in any life in which you don’t just choose from the options in front of you, uncertainty is inevitable. Extraordinary achievements are rarely the result of a predictable, safe, and linear trajectory.

Actors go to Hollywood, founders go to San Francisco, and musicians go to Nashville even though the odds are stacked against them and their future is uncertain. They give up an ordinary life for the potential of an extraordinary one.

A tolerance for uncertainty is the price of admission for an extraordinary life.

Fortunately, our tolerance for uncertainty isn’t fixed. It’s something we can develop and increase with practice. As we develop our tolerance for uncertainty, we’re able to navigate the geography of a creative life more with poise and grace.

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If you want to become extraordinary at anything, you will have periods of discomfort:

  • If you’re an artist or creator of any sort, you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort of creating work that’s not very good
  • If you’re running a business you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort of financial uncertainty
  • If you do reach a point where your products, services or books reach millions of people you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort of 2-star reviews and of the fear that you’ll never be able to produce the same quality of work again

Discomfort is a non-negotiable part of any life where you attempt to be the architect of your reality. We crave adventure, purpose, and meaning. Yet, We seek out safety, profit, and security. To do anything extraordinary, you must accept the duality that nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible. As Susan David says, “discomfort is the price of admission for a meaningful life”.

The Illusion of the Perfect Time

Most people go through life thinking that tomorrow they’re going to do something great. Tomorrow will be the day they wake up and discover what they were put on this earth to do. But then tomorrow comes-and goes. As does the next day. Before long, they realize that there aren’t any tomorrow’s left. – Nick Bilton

A few months ago, I was having dinner with a friend who said he didn’t understand how people left their secure jobs with steady paychecks to start companies. In response I said “you realize the only reason you have a job is that someone else had the balls to do that right?” In his eyes there was some mythical date in the future when the conditions would be perfect, the time would be right, and he’d have all his ducks in a row.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll make it to tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. My friend said, “why not wait until later in your life?” I reminded him about our mutual friend whose life was cut short by a tragic drowning incident just a few weeks earlier. It doesn’t matter when your brief moment of audacity takes place. It’s always going to be uncertain. There will never be a time when you will be able to predict precisely how the future unfolds.