The Power of Options in the Face of Uncertainty

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We’re often told that exceptional focus is required to succeed. Know one thing, and be good at that; put in the hard work, log those 10,000 hours, and you’ll make it someday.

But recent years have shown that our present is defined by uncertainty. The impacts of trade wars, political shifts, and a global pandemic demonstrate that anyone’s circumstances could change rapidly and dramatically. When massive shake-ups could happen anytime in your industry or company, becoming over-specialized could mean losing options in other areas. Here’s how to avoid that problem.

Adapting to change

In his series of works entitled Incerto, Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the inherent uncertainty of our world and how this randomness impacts every aspect of our lives. From his background as a derivatives trader, Taleb realizes that some systems can gain from volatility, while others collapse. Instead of attempting to predict the future and map out several detailed contingencies, acquiring a variety of options would allow an investor to thrive off uncertainty and risk. It’s the principle underlying the strategy of diversifying one’s portfolio; take stocks in different sectors, buy house-and-land packages that you can live in or rent out, lend capital to startups.

The more options you have, the less limited you will be in application and adapting to change. That isn’t only applicable to finance but to our careers and life in general. Develop multiple skills, and your career can progress in unforeseen ways. You can bypass a pecking order at work or seize opportunities in other companies, for instance. Pursue different hobbies, and you won’t be frustrated when quarantine measures shut down theaters or your favorite sport.

Reducing the mental workload

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Muscles get tired after physical exertion, and our brains can also suffer similar strain when faced with chronic stress and uncertainty. Having to make sense of too much information and process complicated decisions can be mentally exhausting; yet, that is a challenge we all face daily. At first, adding options would seem to increasenot reduceour mental workload.

But when you’re dealing with options that you have thoughtfully selected, you gain practical familiarity while letting events unfold, which leads to heuristic decision-making. Instead of spending hours in the planning stage and making periodic adjustments, you can simply wait and see what’s working. Promoting yourself through a website, you could try to publish a varied range of content and see what seems to click with your audience, instead of committing to a specific model from the outset and having to pivot in midstream.

Creating agency in life

When people feel lost, stuck, or having surrendered a sense of control over their lives, it often comes down to a lack of agency. It is a multi-faceted problem, but you’re not going to do yourself any favors by limiting your options with excessive focus. If you start from a young age and dedicate yourself to a specific career or climbing the ladder at a company you admire, what happens when you struggle under an overbearing boss or when the industry trends shift away from your strengths? When you don’t cultivate options, you feel like you’ve no choice; you end up submitting more and more to the will of others and doing less of what you want.

In the recipe of life, variety isn’t only the spice but an essential ingredient for success and enjoyment. Grow a wide range of options across your career and personal interests, and you can genuinely make a living out of these uncertain times.

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