Woman meditating
When it gets too noisy and confusing around you: Try taking advantage of this uncertain phase to take some time and think things over. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Where to go from here? What next?

These are questions that plague us all, from CEOs to interns and even those simply trying to make it through the day. A seemingly minor setback, like a boss disapproving your work to a larger mistake such as missing a crucial deadline, can trigger a cascade of worry, making you question whether you made the right career choice. You are flooded by doubts of your own worth, too. 

However, this clawing feeling of uncertainty can also arise even when your performance isn't even necessarily the issue, as Angela Dawson, a British Dubai-based business psychologist explains. You could just feel that you are trapped in a dead-end job, with no exit.

As Rukmani Singh, a Dubai-based corporate wellness mindset coach, explains there are many different kinds of professional uncertainties that cripple us. “The triggers are deeply subjective, depending on the person’s own characteristic traits, as well as the situation they’re in,” she says. As she summarises: Sometimes, they could be overwhelmed by numerous options. They could be also experiencing anxiety due to social media success stories. “This fear of missing out can make it easier for us to focus on our own journey,” she says. There are several layered reasons why these feelings of uncertainty could rise to the surface.

These complicated feelings can go beyond the general sense of dissatisfaction and malaise. People start wondering what they want in their career; they get trapped in a sense of rumination. How can they make a difference to their lives, or anyone else’s, they wonder. “You’re just filled with a deeper sense of uncertainty about what you want next. The opportunities are swimming in front of you, but you feel too overwhelmed to make a decision,” explains Singh.

The first step to looking for clarity, is acknowledging what’s in your control. Not everything is in your control. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Yet, as the experts explain, there’s a way to navigate a way through this messy uncertainty and chaos. In fact, you can even use it to your advantage.

Exit the victim mindset

Don’t go to war with yourself or others, as tempting as it is. 

“The first step to looking for clarity, is acknowledging what’s in your control. Not everything is in your control,” explains Anneliese Gomez, a Dubai-based psychologist. You will be faced with disappointments; unexpected events will blindside you. The uncertainty does gnaw away at you and you start fighting with yourself, resisting your career, rather than taking the reins,” she says. You need to focus on things around you that can actually be managed. “Exit the victim mindset. You have to stop waiting for something bad to happen as a self-fulfilling prophecy, ” says Gomez. Work your way out of the negative ruminations, self-loathing and pity parties.

Give yourself time and space. Don’t keep reflecting on a couple of bad days: That doesn’t have to define your life and career, explains Gomez. In fact, use it to your advantage in your thinking process. Is there a deeper psychological reason why you were under-performing at work? Ponder, and question yourself, or seek feedback from old managers on your strengths and weaknesses to help you reassess your career. 

Don’t do anything rash

We get it, uncertainty can be nerve-wracking. Yet, you need to stay calm---or at least work at keeping your emotions in check.

However, maintaining composure can be particularly challenging when overwhelmed by chaos and uncertainty. It's easy to lash out in frustration, but as Gomez reminds, "No doubt, it's difficult to remain calm, but you need to exercise a certain amount of restraint and keep your emotions in check. Control the way you communicate, and choose your words and actions wisely."

Keep calm. Don't allow yourself to get trapped in your emotions and make a mistake that you will regret. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A sharp word. A hurtful comment or two. A temper outburst. It all can have profound repercussions on your professional reputation. Myra Franklin, a Dubai-based American public relations professional, still remembers a stressful time in the US when she "threw a tantrum" in the office. "I wanted to leave, but that emotional outburst really ruined my relationships with everyone there. I can never go back, let alone ask them for a recommendation," she recalls.

If you can manage to remain professional when you still feel beset by chaos, you can actually inspire confidence in your colleagues and help craft an atmosphere of stability and trust, adds Edda Frank, a Dubai-based psychologist. “Keeping calm just shows others that you can navigate particularly difficult situations with maturity,” she says. This is different from being indifferent and casual: Here, you are working to make things right, by being level-headed. 

When you accept responsibility, keep a calm mind, you can pave the way through chaos, both personally and professionally, she adds. 

The job-switching dilemma

When it gets too much, it's almost rather tempting to leave a job suddenly and look for a new one. Sometimes, people quickly make the decision, before thinking it through and weighing the possibilities. 

As experts and experienced professionals point out, this might not always be the best option. As Mita Srinivasan, a Dubai-based entrepreneur and business professional explains, "It should be a well-considered decision. Work takes up a significant portion of our lives, so it's important to find work that you enjoy and that aligns with your values," she says. However, she adds, it's not always the solution: A challenging situation can be improved with effort. "The key is to find a balance between what you're seeking and what your current role offers," she says. Nevertheless, if it continues to remain unfulfilling after a careful evaluation, you should consider other options for the sake of your well-being.

Switching careers can be a good choice, but it should be a well-considered decision. Work takes up a significant portion of our lives, so it's important to find work you enjoy and that aligns with your values. However switching is not always the solution. A challenging situation can be improved with effort....

- Mita Srinivasan, entrepreneur, Dubai

Consider unknown possibilities

Look at this uncertain space to explore other different opportunities. Image Credit: Shutterstock

For those of you who feel overwhelmed by the constant flood of opportunities: Don’t keep trying to answer what’s next. How about what could be next?

Allow yourself to daydream, explains Gomez. And when we say daydreaming, we don’t mean just randomly dozing off in the middle of the day imagining unattainable scenarios. “Play around with various possibilities. It allows your brain a break. Don’t get logistics of what didn’t work,” she advises. Keep reminding yourself that this fretful uncertainty won’t last forever. 

Reflect on your career, where you felt that you did your best work. “Remember that moment where you actually felt satisfied with yourself. Now try to come up with different contexts where you can bring that same relief back,” she says.

And that's what Saran Sow Barry, a Dubai-based entrepeneur and founder of Afro Baobab Events, an events management company, did. She shifted careers three times, worked in investment banking, shifted to change management at credit insurance company in France, and then became an entrepreneur in Dubai. "These changes were not easy, at all. For one of them, I had to go back to university to pursue a master’s degree at the age of 30. I had so many doubts about myself and how I was going to pull this off with two young kids at home in a busy city like Paris," she says. Yet, she stayed focused on her goal. "That was the direction I wanted to take at that time and what was best suited for my career at that specific time in my life," she says.

How did she navigate career uncertainties? Well, by trusting her instincts, and resilence, as she says. "I'm still dealing with these uncertainties today, because the world is constantly changing and therefore one needs to adapt," she says. She does add: Once you accept life keeps evolving, careers can shift, you do find new opportunities. And remember: Do not be too hard on yourself.

As the psychologists say, try turning the unknown into an adventure. “It’s always the brain’s instinct to see something unfamiliar as a threat,” says Frank. Yet, we have a choice to view unknowns as either problems that create stress or adventures that create excitement. So flip the perspective. Don't keep finding problems for every solution. 

Take advice from others too, as Srinivasan points out, but what compromising your own instinct. "What works for someone else might not be the right fit for your goals and aspirations. It's wise to consider advice from others, but always filter it through the lens of your own needs and desires," she adds. 

Give yourself a challenge: How uncertainty can be healthy

According to Yale neuroscientists, in a 2018 study titled Aren’t sure? Brain is primed for learning, uncertainty can actually be healthy for your brain as you learn more in unpredictable situations. As the study explained, when you’re in a predictable situation, your brain is relaxed, and lethargic. However, when situations change, it works harder. So, when you enter an unfamiliar situation, your brain works harder to absorb additional information, according to the study. As a result, you need to step outside your comfort zone in order to cultivate a growth a mindset and build resilience for career success.