We often hear that we live in a VUCA world – a world that is (increasingly) Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. How can we navigate in this world?
I am a self-confessed control freak. I like to be in control of my life and of myself. I like a clean desk, a tidy apartment, a structured list of projects and activities, and clarity regarding roles and responsibilities. It’s important to me that I seem “together”. I don’t like the feeling of losing control of myself or of being broadsided by something beyond my control.
However I live in the real world – a VUCA world – one where it is not always possible or even desirable to always be in control.
A few years ago I had an experience at the Munich Oktoberfest that taught me a lot about how to navigate between being in and out of control.
I decided to ride one of the very impressive Roller Coasters. We queued up, we got on, we went up a gentle rise and then the wild ride commenced. For 2 exhilarating minutes we were thrown from side to side, up and down, even upside down before slowing down and coming to a gentle stop. When I got off I noticed my shoulders and my neck were stiff and sore and I realised I had been holding on very tight and even steering the roller coaster through the twists and turns. Which when you think of it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
So I got right back on, locked myself into my seat and let go. I gave up my need for control - the roller coaster was going to go where it went irrespective of any intervention on my part.
When I got off my shoulders and neck were back to being relaxed.
I learned – there are times in your life where you are in control, and where you need to be. There are also times in your life where you are not in the control seat and here you need to limit your energy expenditure for when you really will need it.
A few years later I hurt my ankle while skiing in the Alps. After a couple of painful days the Doctor took another look at it and decided that I would need surgery to reattach one of the ligaments that had been badly torn. I had already broken my other ankle and had to have 3 operations so this was not exactly the news that I had been hoping for. I felt myself starting to fight against the decision.
And then I remembered the lesson of the Roller Coaster – I made a conscious decision to put myself in the hands of experienced medical professionals and to save my energy for when I would need it – to go through the healing process. I relaxed and gave over control, knowing that I could take it back when I needed to.
I recognised that this was a time where I was not in control.
I’ve also applied this lesson in my corporate life – there have been times where decisions have come down from on high that have been surprising. Now I regard it as part of my role to provide the best information in the best form so that people can make the best decisions.
Where decisions are made that seem to me to be sub-optimal I look at how I could influence such decisions more effectively in the future, or alternatively I realise that the decision makers may be basing their decisions on other factors that I am not aware of.
And, when I make decisions, I try to make sure that I take their input on board and that I communicate the rationale with my teams – I want them to be empowered and to grow.
And finally where I consistently see decisions being made that are not aligned to my personal values I remind myself that I have 3 options – live with it, change it or leave it – but that complaining about them is a waste of my time and energy.
There are times in our lives where we are fully in the control seat, there are times where we need to place our trust in others, and there are times where we need to step up and be counted.
Knowing which is which is the secret to a fulfilling and meaningful life.