Uncertainty Tolerance, Goals and Theatrics

Completed 100 books on Goodreads. Lost 40 pounds. Raised Series A.

No, not much to flex this year. But certainly some of you have. I’m amazed that you pulled through yet another brutal year!

It’s that time of the year when most people dread reviewing their yearly goals three months into the new year. Exceptional people are churning out blog posts. But here I am, advocating a modified approach to setting goals.

How do you recover from the tragedy of losing a loved one? What do you do when your company has an unexpected lay-off? What do you prioritize when your health is deteriorating at the cost of a major promotion? What happens when your assets tank after a market crash? How do you prepare your mind when the future seems bleak?

If the last few years of pandemic have taught me something, it is about improving my uncertainty tolerance.

I’m not good at it and I hope to find interesting ways to sit through uncertain phases in life.

Institutions such as school and workplace promise us a certain future. That your degree will be valuable. That your career will protect you. Imagine if they were real about it: “Well, this will teach you many things but there is no certainty.”

There is enormous pressure to not fail. If you somehow fail — don’t get good grades or don’t find the right profession — your options are repeating another year in the same thing or as some lucky people would have it, walking out of the mess unharmed with family money.

For example, at workplace, certainty is perceived as a sign of leadership and everyone (especially those in my line of profession) signal their capacity for leadership by being too certain about where they are headed. So teams indulge in a form of theatrics— excessive goal setting devoid of any room for uncertainty.

The most important thing about experiencing failure is the way we process the uncertainty that comes along with it. And the institution, by design, actively discourages from processing failure and admitting uncertainty.

When I started the year 2022, I was still recovering from my 2020 plans going so awry. Everything that I yearned and expected to be certain vanished with the emergence of new strains of the virus. So it felt like I have been stuck in 3 consecutively terrible years.

Goals for 2020Reality
Close the gap in my long distance relationshipRescheduled wedding plans several times
Join Grad School for Professional DevelopmentDecided to forego admits to UC Berkeley, Duke, Northeastern
Focus on becoming a better mid-career PMQuit my job and took a break of 7 months
Make friends in the new cityFelt isolated from society more than ever
Have an active lifestyle and get fitGained 20 kgs, melasma and a ton of insecurity

The way I have been processing failure last 3 years and as a result the uncertainty was less than ideal. There would be periods of intense crying, isolation, misdirected anger and negative self-talk.

When I was back on the job market in 2021 after immigrating to the US, one of my goals was to experience getting offers from multiple product companies. A rather whimsical goal as you may think. Nevertheless, it gave me some semblance of direction.

But there wasn’t a real chance I would be able to convert any offer owing to delay in getting work permit. The uncertainty of not receiving my work permit on time was bothering me every day. Somewhere along the process, I realized how much I was limiting myself by constantly feeling like a failure and not taking the uncertainty in life well.

Setting a rigid goal set me up for emotional turmoil. I swapped the goal for something that accommodates uncertainty.

“My goal is to give my best. If companies realise my value, they will go above and beyond to take me in for an interview. Lack of a work permit shouldn’t stop them from considering my experience.”

That simple change in my goal (and attitude) did wonders. It changed the way I looked at myself and the situation around me.

Of course, what I did could be written as a separate post. I ended up receiving opportunity to interview at about 80+ tech companies in Bay Area and landed several good offers from big tech and startups.

These days, when I write a goal for myself, half way through it, I check if it factors uncertainty. Without appreciating the uncertainty in our lives, no number of goals or fervent adherence to it is going to make us happy.

3 responses to “Uncertainty Tolerance, Goals and Theatrics”

  1. Loved this post. Agree completely that rigid goals seldom work and take away a sense of accomplishment. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Wonderful post Vandu. As someone struggling with anxiety and uncertainty I relate to this immensely. Accepting uncertainty is a huge part of the solution is my realization.


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