Embracing Uncertainty

Posted
23/12/2015
Author
Isabela Souza

How many times have we heard: “… and then something else happened.” No matter how much we plan, when it comes to implementation of plans, something else often happens.

Yet, for some strange reason some people, like me, are obsessed with planning. I’ve had people praise me for my target-oriented personality. In fact, since I was a child I had my whole life planned ahead of me. I went to a public school, I started studying English as a second language when I was 6 years old, in my teens I also had French classes, studied in the USA for one year as an exchange student and went back home in Brazil to study Engineering, so that I could get a well paid job, eventually get married, have kids, a house and a car.

Life was supposed to be a simple and the flow of events to follow a straight line. And for a certain period of my life it did. I graduated from Engineering, I had a good job at the engineering department at ExxonMobil, and I got married to a nice fellow (for my parents the last event was the most important of all!). But, there is always a “but” in my life. All was going “as planned” until I got a scholarship to do a masters in the UK. The plan then became to come to London for one year, and then go back to Brazil. As it happens with many people that come to London, the one-year turned into 10 years and my “perfect planned life” gradually became something else.

Coming to London has opened up a number of opportunities I could never have dreamed of. Work-life balance, for example, was something I believed only existed in textbooks! The concept of “me-time” was alien to me. And the possibility to have a “portfolio career” was simply unimaginable. I fell in love with these new ways of thinking and behaving, and fell out of love with my husband who still wanted us to have a “planned” life.

Splitting up was hard. We had been together for 12 years. We had plans to grow old together. I had to face many internal questions of: What now? And also felt the pressure from family and friends at home about what were my “plans” for the future? I was working for an NGO and I was unhappy with my work and I needed change in my professional life too. It was just too much all at once, so rather than jumping into a new career, I chose the known path of the private sector and joined PwC Sustainability Consultancy. At that time I also started one-to-one coaching with Nick Ellerby at Oasis.

I remember vividly how in one of our first sessions, Nick said: “I feel you are very determined, you set a goal, you draw a straight line and you go there; however, once you get there you don’t know what else, so you set another goal and set-off again, without allowing yourself to take turns and explore different paths rather than the shortest and straight line to your goal.” He was right. Over the five years I was with PwC, Nick helped me to change my habits of always planning my work, and instead experimented with just letting things emerge.

Two years ago I resigned and I became self-employed, earning my living partially from working with my parents’ property-let family business and partially as a facilitator and sustainability consultant. Sharing my time between Brazil and the UK was a challenge and in the first year of my “new life” I have learned to cope with many types of uncertainties.

Where my income was going to come from, for example, was a big question mark. I knew that starting a new career as someone self-employed was going to be hard, and I had “planned” to use my savings in the first two years. But (as I said before, there is always a “but” in my life) “something else happened”. My parents’ business had a cash-flow problem and I had to lend them all my savings and even get a loan! I never thought I would be in such mess financially. In the end, I was amazed how I managed to reduce my expenditure dramatically and to live with very little income. That year was hard, but I survived.

I started 2015 with much more hope that things would be sorted out. I was getting smarter about booking flights between Brazil and the UK. I had a loose plan of where I was going to be during the year, and although I did not have the precise dates, I was comfortable with the overall picture. My plans did not last long. Mid-January my father was diagnosed with cancer and everything was up in the air once again. It turned out that he needed surgery to take out his stomach. I was in the UK, at a workshop of the Whole Person Facilitating programme from Oasis and I was supposed to go to Germany in February to co-facilitate the Corporate Social Responsibility and Governance modules of an MBA at NIT with Chris Taylor. We did not know when the surgery would be and planning for international travels when you do not have dates is quite hard. I struggled to imagine how my year ahead was going to look. The group at the Whole Person Facilitating programme was fantastic. They ran a session to help me cope with uncertainty. During that session I realised that all my questions would be answered in the following three months, so the uncertainty was momentary.

The operation was scheduled for after my return to Brazil, so I did go to Germany and did not need to change my short-term plans. All went well and my father is now recovering within expectations. On the work front, “something else” also happened. I was invited to undertake a short piece of consultancy in Mozambique. It was a good opportunity to recover my financial balance and it came totally out of the blue, from previous contacts I had when I was at PwC.

As we approach the end of the year and I reflect back on all the plans I had and start to think about the year ahead, I am uncertain of where and what I will be doing in 2016. This time I am not making any plans. I am embracing uncertainty and I am literally “waiting to see” what will happen.

It has been a long learning journey and only now I feel I am comfortable with letting uncertainty into my life.

Isabela Souza

Associate

Experienced facilitator in Whole Person approaches with an inter-disciplinary background in sustainability and climate change

Isabela Souza