Planning in Uncertain Times

The future of work’s not clear—here’s how to prepare anyway
Darcy Eikenberg

Photo: iStock.com/Orla

If you take nothing else away from this idea-packed issue of The Actuary about the future of work, I hope you’ll at least remember this: You’re not virtual; you’re real.

As a real person and a committed professional, you’re faced with the painful knowledge that only one thing is now certain in our new world of work: uncertainty.

As we examine what’s ahead, these questions swirl inside our oh-so-human brains:

  • Where will we work—at home or in an office? At all times or once in a while?
  • With whom will we work—colleagues, clients, communities, contractors or computers?
  • How will our work shrink or expand, become commoditized or increase in value?

Let’s face it: Uncertainty stinks, especially for those of us who revel in having a plan or who want all the steps spelled out on the roadmap.

With Multiple Levels of Uncertainty Surrounding Us, What Can We Do Now?

Should we just give up and stay tense in a stance of constant readiness, like a hockey goalie bracing for the puck to speed their way? How can we plan what’s next when we don’t know what to plan for?

The answer is to plan the future you.

Here’s a secret. No matter what’s going on in our world of work, you only control three things:

  1. Everything you think
  2. Everything you say
  3. Everything you do

That’s it. In fact, that’s always been all you can control, no matter what’s happened in your company or country.

Maybe you don’t believe me. After all, if you were raised in a highly developed nation, you were likely taught you could do anything, have anything, be anything … if you just worked hard enough and did the “right” things. So, you squeezed, stressed and tightened your grip around what you thought you could control until your fists hurt. And still, after all that stress, the world kept changing around you.

The good news is that once you see what you can control—and what you can’t—you’ll create a stronger sense of power, safety, self-worth and freedom than you’ve ever had before, and you’ll face uncertain times with more confidence.

The Future of Work Is an Invitation for You to Step Into What You Can Control—and to Release What You Can’t

If you’re ready to plan for the future of work, there are three core strategies that will accelerate your control and increase your ability to accept, adapt and advance. Although they seem simple, they’re not always easy. However, each will help increase your ability to respond to anything that emerges as our working world changes.

Strategy 1: Schedule Self-reflection

Emerging research indicates the reason the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated so many economic and workforce trends is because individuals worldwide were forced into periods of quiet thinking and personal reflection. Or, as the Zen saying goes: “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”

To prepare for an uncertain future of work, we can commit space on our calendars for regular, intentional reflection. For some, this might be a formal practice, such as “no-screen Sundays” or planned time alone in nature. Others might need an assist from outside, such as working with a trusted coach on a planned schedule or committing to a series of group classes like yoga, meditation or a book club—anything that provides an appointment to shift the mind away from the outside and into your own self and spirit.

A self-reflection practice isn’t self-centered or selfish. It’s preventative care to keep your brain ready for whatever’s next.

Strategy 2: Self-direct Your Growth

If you’ve unintentionally outsourced your personal growth goals to your company, now’s the perfect time to create your own development plan.

Perhaps there’s something you’d like to learn within your industry or a skill you’d like to finally master. Don’t wait for an invitation to a training or even the opportunity to learn on the job. Take control and start talking to people who already know the thing you’d like to learn.

In a location-agnostic world, teachers can be anywhere on the globe and are more accessible to you than ever before—just by asking. Ultimately, great people want to help great people, but folks don’t know how they can help until you ask.

Strategy 3: Quiet the Self-criticism

Our internal desires for control are merely a well-trained response to attempt to stay safe, sparked by the prehistoric part of our brains that sends us strong messages of worry and fear. We beat ourselves up with the justifying lie that “if I let my guard down, all will be lost.”

But here’s the rub: “Safe” isn’t a route to more meaning, impact or happiness. It’s only a route to more of the same. Or, as author John A. Shedd writes, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”1

The best way to prepare for the future of work is to ensure that you’re feeling calm, confident and strong. That negative voice in your head is a liar, magnified by extreme noise in the media encouraging you to feel stuck, worried and unable to tackle whatever happens next.

What history shows us, though, is that you’re capable of much more than you know. Let’s embrace the future of work, and no matter what happens, trust yourself to figure it out.

Darcy Eikenberg, PCC, is an executive coach and speaker on leadership and career success. Her latest book, Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job, goes deeper into how we can take back control in our lives at work and prepare for the future with courage and confidence. Download a free chapter and get other career-enhancing tools at RedCapeRevolution.com.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

Copyright © 2022 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.