anchors to uncertainty

Published on May 6, 2020

What I am feeling right now is uncertainty.

While I was born before the 2009 financial crisis, I recall hearing very little about it. I don’t remember my parents discussing the crisis, although I am sure they were worried. I was too young to take in most of what was going on, and even if I had been paying more attention, it is likely that I wouldn’t have been able to understand what people were saying.

Before this crisis emerged, I had no reference point for what true uncertainty felt like.

I had read stories of the Great Depression and the Great Recession, which made it clear just how difficult times were for people living through those historical events. Yet those stories were, to me, stories. They were not grounded in any experience I had myself.

This meant that the extent to which I could sympathize with these stories was limited. I knew that seeing the market crash heavily was a bad thing, but I had no idea what it felt like to be there, because I was not significantly affected by either of those events. They were in history.

This time is different. I am old enough to understand what is going on, and while I know I cannot even begin to comprehend everything that is happening, I do know the nature of what is going on. I am also personally affected, like everyone on the planet right now.

I am locked down in my house. I am watching as the economy struggles. Most of us are in the same position: in quarantine, and worried about the future state of the economy.

We also do not know what is next. I keep hearing about potential efforts to reopen our nation over the coming months, but nothing is certain. Something could happen tomorrow that fundamentally changes how we tackle this crisis. And who knows what the long-term economic ramifications are going to look like. Life is so uncertain.

I have been trying my best to use this as an opportunity for me to grow, because this is the first time in my life that I have been truly impacted by such a degree of uncertainty. I haven’t been through a major recession as an adult, or a major health crisis or anything like that. I’ve mainly lived the life of the average person growing up in the United Kingdom.

This crisis has helped me learn about how I respond to uncertainty. I now know that, when an uncertain event hits, I flock immediately to security. I go to family for support, and I even shut down in some ways. I know that, at the start, I can feel very down, but over time I am able to rebuild my emotional strength.

A book could have told me these things were going to happen. Reading about how individual people recovered from the last financial crisis could have helped me understand how I would react. But there is no substitute to actual experience, which is what I have had today.

We need to go through these experiences to truly understand uncertainty. It’s only now that I feel I know how I will react in uncertain times. I have a playbook to which I can refer.

As lockdown restrictions ease, I have a better idea of how I am going to respond. I know that I may go through tough times, and now I know how to handle myself when those times come. I also know that there will be a more hopeful tomorrow, because here we are today, talking about restrictions being eased in the coming months. If you’d have told me that we would be here today, I would have said you were crazy.

This is the time for me to study myself; to learn how I react to uncertainty. I am using this time to learn about how I respond to changing circumstances, and also to reconsider the values that matter most to me. I’ve already learned, for instance, that family deserves more of my time than I gave it before the crisis.

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