Stephan Joppich (aka Leo Sharp)

How to navigate uncertainty

published2 months ago
4 min read

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Today: The art of dealing with uncertainty and bracing yourself for bad news

Hey there!

A few months ago, I decided on a new direction for my life: move to Munich and go back to uni. (In case you're wondering: This doesn't mean I'll stop writing. Sorry to disappoint you.)

See, ever since I returned from my digital nomad life in Porto, I've been craving a home. A place where I can establish myself for the next few years. (ICYMI, I reflected on this idea here.)

And ironically, Munich is the city where I was born and raised. Which kind of made me wonder: I traveled so much and did so many crazy things just return to the place where it all began. I think a lot of people have this "going back to the roots" mentality after getting lost and finding themselves.

Now, what you have to know about Munich is that it's ROUGH to find an affordable place. Actually, that's an understatement. It's close to impossible.

I contacted dozens of shared apartments. And I did so by sending a thoughtful message whenever a new ad would go online. But 98% didn't get back to me.

Not even a No.

But then unexpectedly, I was finally invited to see a place. And so, I jumped on a four-hour train ride and went there. (And I brought a cake in the hopes to bribe them.) After spending two nights talking with them in their kitchen, everything seemed perfect. We got along great, and I already thought I found my new home.

Two days later I got this message: We're not 100% convinced that living together would work out. Good luck with finding a place.


A few weeks later, my brother texted me. He sent me the details of another place with a room for rent. So I contacted them, they invited me, and I went through the same spiel: bake a cake, hop on a train, talk to them. And again, we got along great.

The only problem was that they didn't get back to me after two days but two weeks.

To you, this might sound like a trivial problem. But here I was, traumatized from my previous experience, anxious about rejection, and not sure whether I should keep contacting new apartments, or what I should do with my life at all.

The uncertainty was killing me.

But on the bright side, this gave me plenty of time to reflect. Which led me to a question we were never taught at school:

How the hell do you deal with uncertainty?

Idea: How to cope with uncertainty (and brace yourself for disappointment)

Life is full of these agonizing moments of uncertainty:

  • You applied for a job but have to wait until they make a decision.
  • A family member unexpectedly gets sick and you don't have further information yet.
  • A pandemic is raging all over the world and nobody knows when things will go back to normal.

I've found that people deal with these things very differently. Some of my friends said, "Oh yeah, I don't mind the wait. I often forget about it until I get the news."

But I'm a worrier. And this thing really mattered to me, which made me worry even more. It felt like getting tossed into an ice-cold lake and not knowing whether I'd make it to the other side.

Spoiler alert: I did get to the other side. Better than ever.

These are the things I found most helpful during this painfully uncertain time:

  • Don't wait. In the first few days, I was paralyzed. I couldn't focus. Had nightmares. Felt lost. I postponed everything until I'd have further information about when and where I'd move. What helped me was not to sit around and wait for a response, but take action. I kept contacting more places and forged future plans. It gave me a sense of control. And if the pandemic has taught us anything it's that we shouldn't wait until things go back to normal. We should adjust. React. Live.
  • Expect the worst, hope for the best. I think hope is healthy in uncertain times. It makes the whole situation less gloomy. But only as long as you're also aware of the worst case scenario. It really helps to flesh out the worst that could happen in excruciating detail and then ask, "Will I get through this?" (you will) and, "How can I deal with this?"(with an action plan).
  • Make an action plan. An action plan is your response to the worst case scenario. Write down an exact list of steps you'll take if the train of hope derails and crashes. This helps you recover much quicker and think more rationally if you're disappointed.
  • Distract yourself. This actually worked well for me. I tried to make my distractions healthy (exercising, writing, reading), but didn't feel too bad when I watched TV until 2 am. It's okay to take your mind off the worries and focus on different things.

In the end, I did get the room I was hoping for. Everything worked out. But I was always prepared to receive bad news. And because of that, I'm now all the more relieved and grateful.

Content: How to brace yourself for bad news

In a serendipitous moment during my uncertain wait, I discovered this great article by Markham Heid. He suggests a strategy called "preemptive benefit finding." Which means that you look for the silver lining in a worst case scenario before it even happened.

Definitely worth a read if you're a worrier like me.

Something to think about

The only certainty in life is uncertainty.

Thus, learning to navigate uncertain times is one of the most worthwhile endeavors in life.

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