How to Have Uncertainly Clear Successes

Eliminate UncertaintyI got the pictured political mailer the other day from our US Congressman. In addition to all the other promises he is advocating (which I also don’t support) there was this exceptional tidbit: Eliminate Uncertainty.

As if our typical southern, good ole boy Rep is going to float down in pink tule and crown and bippity-boppity-boo away all uncertainty from our lives.

Talk about silly, empty, political promises.

Uncertainty isn’t going anywhere. Even the Dalai Lama faces uncertainty with flying in the form of a fear of sharks. If you don’t have any worries in your life then you are either the most Zen person ever to walk the planet or not not IN your life.

I’ve talked before about flinching forward and faking confidence but after attending the $100 startup book event last night I had a new brainwave about risk-reward and pushing past our fears of the unknown.

If we cannot eliminate our the unknown and our worry about it, we can at least mitigate the fear by focusing instead on our clear goals.

All eyes are on you (except they are not)

We’ve all been there. We walk into a new space and feel like everyone is going to judge our every movement and syllable. Where do I go? Am I dressed right? How am I supposed to act? Who am I going to talk to? Will I be liked? Will I be able to accomplish what I want to?

We can be plagued and paralyzed by questions that have no answer until it is over.

Or we can force the ill-defined fears into the background by instead focusing on positive goals.

So, Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Speculoos Icing in hand I walked up to Urban Oasis last night nervous and excited. I tried to drown the typical fears of please-oh-dear-Universe don’t let me spill anything all over myself, trip and fall into my cupcakes, say something ridiculously stupid, or make some other gigantor social blunder… by holding in my mind two things I wanted (and bonuses):Chocolate cupcakes

  1. I wanted to have a good conversation with one other person
  2. I wanted the cupcakes to be gone
  • Bonus: compliment for said cupcakes
  • Bonus 2: meet someone else going to WDS
  • Bonus 3: meet Chris

My big takeaways from Chris’s talk were twofold. One: the event wasn’t about him, it was about meeting others in the room (and the people in the book). This wasn’t news to me (ahem: see also goal one above and gimmie pat on back).

I was happily surprised to see an incredibly diverse, eclectic mix of people in that space and people of all different sorts having conversations with each other and sharing smiles. For myself, while there were some awkward moments throughout the night, I put myself out there to meet people and had not just one good conversation but quite a few.

The second key thing that I heard from Chris was: Define your own success.

Success means ________.

You can concentrate on the uncertainty, your fear, the murky fog of unknowable unknowns… or you define the fear and then define your success.

Chris was speaking about the importance of crystalizing for yourself what you, personally, hope to achieve with with a project or product. I admit that, in terms of my work, this is one area where I need to get better. I often launch into something without setting clear expectations or objectives or thinking realistically about what “success” will mean to me for that project.

I also realized, however, I had been doing that work in other areas without framing it as such. I had done it for that very evening.

In chats to psyche myself up to walk into the unknown I do define my success. “If I just make it through tonight without….” or “If I am just able to ____, then tonight will be worth it…” or “I want to run/bike/lift… today.”

Setting goals banishes the fuzzy, scary, self-critical “what if?” monster to a corner and lets me proceed — not without uncertainty for that beast never goes away — but without paralyzing fear.

Sometimes my definition of success is simply: to finish. As long as it gets us past the precipice and actually doing, the simple objective of surviving is ok. Yet often I want to do a little better than mere completion and being more specific and creative makes for a better experience.

Be IN your goals

Untitled Here is the process that works for me:

Step One: Breathe.

Step Two: Smile.

Step Three: Reminded of the reasons.

Step Four: Define a goal out of the desires.

Step Five: Dive into the uncertain space.


Steps One and Two are deceptively simple yet effective.

They are especially important as we move into the uncertain space but they are equally important as we prepare.

It is Steps 3-5 of course that are most important and slightly more complex.

Step 3 is your INspiration.

This is the “Why?” Why are you going to the meet up? Emailing that person? Painting a picture? Creating an online dating profile? Sending in that application? Writing the article? Signing up for the race?

As with each of these: be specific. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated or formal but be clear in your head about your motivations or what INspired you in the first place.

Step 4 is using INformation to define your goals.

If you are feeling unsure the best thing I know to do is research. For the $100 Startup Event I of course got the book but I had only just started it when I showed up (oh Time you wily vixen). I did, however, read up on the event again and make sure I had good directions and even went so far as to look up more information on the venue.

I incorporate this new information into the info-gathering head check of “why?” (step 3) and set goals (like those listed at the beginning of this post).

These goals can be low — inversely proportional to your nervousness. The key is that this is not nebulous. Your success for the event should be defined as a concrete frame in your head so that you can focus on achieving them instead of your uncertainty or vauge worries.

Three and 4 are rather fluid but once you are going into Step 5 you should have clear objectives.

Examples: I want to show up and make it through the door; I will send that email by tomorrow morning; I want to finish the race regardless of how long it takes; I want to have fun; I want to connect with this person I’ve been reading about; I will ask a question in this forum; I want to survive my first Bikram yoga class; I will push myself by talking to at least one stranger.

Give yourself some “best case bonuses” too. Keep reminding yourself of your INspiration and if you need a carrot, give yourself an extra promised reward for doing it.

Step 5 is INtentionally Enjoying. (but of course)

Once you flinch forward and are in the “uncertain” space — you show up, start writing, begin crafting, press ‘publish’ — it is time to relax and enjoy the process.

Your goals are your baseline, your liferaft in case of emergency. Defined objectives help you get through the fear of the fuzzy and on to the good stuff of doing but they should not be the end-all be-all for your experience. 

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 as often as necessary. Allow for other possibilities to unfold. Go back to your goals if you must but otherwise just trust the flow knowing the hard work of overcoming your fear is behind you.


Untitled Despite political promises to eliminate uncertainty, the unknowable will always exist and we simply face the choice of how to deal effectively with it.

You might achieve all your goals and you might not. It helps me to remember that, trite and cliche as it might be, “at least I tried.”

We may as well push ourselves big rather then settle for what might appear to be safe.

And sometimes expectations are blown away by reality in the most fabulous ways possible.

If all uncertainty was removed we wouldn’t have surprises — those amazing, stupefying, heart-fluttering moments that blow past our expectations. It is only by going into the unknown that we might experience wonder at the exceptional.

Define your success. Set your informed path. Go enjoy pushing yourself into the great, wide, surprising unknown.

Through it all: Be IN.

Jo Signature


PS. Goals 1 & 2 – Check and Check. Bonus 3 also accomplished in the most relaxed and organic way imaginable. Chis is as unassuming and chill as he appears in his writing and it was a pleasure to meet him. Oh and his folks and sister are super cute.

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  1. I have long thought that surviving the unsurviveable is a way bigger success than we give ourselves credit for. And so many unknowns seem so unsurviveable when I start them. Woody Allen is indeed right about this: 90% of life is just SHOWING UP!

    • Indeed! If we reframe our big scaries to “I will show up and I will survive” oftentimes they seem a little more manageable and we do ourselves about 10 times better than that. But the act of just arrival and survival, in and of itself, is worth celebrating for so many never take those leaps.

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