Today is November 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how comfortable are you with ambiguity?” Learning to deal with uncertainty is an inherent part of being human and navigating the chaos of life. Ambiguity comes in many shapes and sizes from the trivial – like where to go to lunch – to the life-threatening – like a health scare with no clear solution. People who navigate the chaos learn, sometimes the hard way that life is often about not knowing and dealing with the delicious ambiguity of living.
American actress Gilda Radner and former professional poker player Annie Duke learned first-hand that life is often about not knowing. Radner wrote “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I have learned, the hard way, that some poems do not rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
Born on June 28, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan, Gilda Radner went on to star with close friend John Belushi on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Some of her most memorable characters were Roseanne Roseannadanna and Baba Wawa, and she won an Emmy Award for her work in 1978. Radner married fellow comedian Gene Wilder, whom she met on the set of the film Hanky Panky. She died of ovarian cancer in 1989, at 43 years of age.
Former professional poker player Annie Duke understands today’s strategy of navigating the chaos by getting comfortable not knowing where life will take you. Duke was one month away from defending her doctoral dissertation when she decided she no longer wished to pursue academia and left school to play professional poker. She holds a World Series of Poker (WSOP) gold bracelet from 2004 and used to be the leading money winner among women in WSOP history.
Duke won the 2004 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship in 2010. She has written a number of instructional books for poker players, including Decide to Play Great Poker and The Middle Zone, and she published her autobiography, How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker, in 2005. As Duke said “In life you never know where you’ll end up. You have to be comfortable not knowing where life is going. All we can do is learn how to make the best decisions in front of us and trust that over time the odds will be in our favor.”
In his October 21, 2020, Psychology Today article "How Well Do You Deal With Ambiguity?" Leon F. Seltzer commented on ambiguity and noted “What worked in the past may not work now, so past solutions may need to be reevaluated. Moreover, most problems have more than a single solution, so if one’s best judgment is to be available, it’s necessary not merely to remain flexible but calm, unshaken, and open as well (i.e., your thinking isn’t controlled by your anxiety). And, too, it’s possible that before you can even act on your chosen solution the situation, which you’ve been closely monitoring, has changed. Even beyond these considerations, those comfortable with uncertainty realize how convoluted reality can be—as in good persons sometimes act badly (and the reverse also being true).”
Leaders who are able to deal with ambiguity can effectively cope with change, shift gears comfortably, decide and act without having the total picture, and are able to navigate risk and uncertainty. Those with a strong ability to deal with ambiguity are often described as adaptable, flexible, and comfortable with uncertainty. They can operate with confidence to make decisions or move forward, even without all the information, because they have built their understanding
How often are you focused on wanting a perfect ending?
Since your life has probably not been as perfect as you would have hoped for, what does that tell you about embracing ambiguity?
Can you accept the fact that ‘some poems do not rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end?’
How often do you remind yourself that ‘life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next?’
How often do you challenge yourself to be comfortable not knowing where life is going?
How often do you ‘learn how to make the best decisions in front of you and trust that over time the odds will be in your favor?’
How often do you change gears when dealing with the ambiguity of life?
How often can you move forward amidst the ambiguity?
How often do you accept the realization that ‘what worked in the past may not work now so past solutions need to be reevaluated?’
How often do you remind yourself there is often more than a single solution to any one problem?
How often do you remind yourself how convoluted reality is?