If You Can’t Hug Your Friends, Try Hugging Ambiguity.

My first year in Texas was a bit of a blur. A blur because I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen from one day to the next.

It was 1984, and I’d just moved from the East coast of England to a small town just south of Austin, Texas. When I try to describe how different things were, I tell people that it was “a little like going from Hogwarts without boys or magic to Friday Night Lights.”

It was significantly more of a change than that. I’d gone from the person who knew everyone to the person who knew no one overnight. I’d shifted into the role of elder sister as my actual older sister had chosen to stay in England. While technically Americans and English people are supposed to speak the same language, let me tell you this, they don’t. I learned that the “j” in fajita was silent and that “all ya’ll” was a fairly common phrase. Until someone leaned over and kindly whispered in my ear, “Joanna, when they say, “Tell me about it.” they don’t mean they want you to “tell them about it.”

The list goes on and on. Expectations went from crystal clear to non-existent. My future and who I was supposed to “grow up to be” went from a plan to ….well, I’m still figuring that out.

The surprising thing is, I loved every second of it. Was a terrified I would make some terrible mistake or commit some dramatic faux pas? Yes, of course. It didn’t stop me from barrelling forward and figuring things out. And yes, there was that very embarrassing moment when I asked a fellow student if I could borrow a rubber. I tripped and fell over societal and cultural norms with regularity. 

Honestly, I was a bit of a disaster. The thing was, I found every mistake, every learning, every new experience hilarious. Trust me on this; there is NOTHING more mind-blowing than getting to go to your first proper Texas High School Pep Rally. Frequently admonished for being “too loud” in England, in Texas, I was encouraged to yell at full volume so our class could win the weekly “spirit stick.” Yes, scream for a stick. I still laugh about pep rallies today. 

It was a year of learning for me. 

I share this because I see us all staring down an unknown future. The “rules” are shifting, and this is in our lives as much as it is in our work. Like you, I wonder what the world of work is going to look like one, maybe two years from now. Is it just a temporary change? Or is it going to change things forever? So many questions, not many answers.

But here’s the big surprise I discovered the year I shifted from certainty to ambiguity; it’s when you don’t know the right answer that you have the freedom to create a new future for yourself. It’s when you can’t predict what’s going to happen that you can experiment and see what might work. It’s when no one else knows what might happen; you have space to make mistakes and laugh about them.

Are the ingredients of this ambiguous future different this time? Yes, totally. But have I given myself permission to reimagine my future? If you know me at all, you know I’ve already started this. Am I experimenting with all sorts of ideas? You have no idea what fabulousness we’re cooking up. Am I making mistakes? I already have a list. 

Because here are the only rules I had left the last time I had to embrace ambiguity:

  1. Will I, or someone else, get injured and/or die? 
  2. Is meanness involved??

If the answer was “no” to both, my second set of questions were:

  1. Will I learn something?
  2. Is there potential for laughter?

I’m using these rules today. And while everything is topsy turvy, I’m applying these rules again. By choosing to look at the future as an adventure, an experiment, a learning opportunity, it’s helping me hug my ambiguous future. 

You get to choose too, how you want to approach figuring out your life will eventually be a new normal. And like me, you can decide to make up your own rules. If you’d like, you can borrow mine. 

It’s an adventure. And while you can’t hug your friends right now, maybe you can hug your ambiguous future.

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