when certainty becomes uncertainty


“One of the worst feelings in the world is having to doubt something that you once thought was unquestionable.”


unknown teen blogger

We all need some stability in our lives. Anyone would be foolish to not agree. I tend to believe that is the root of all our pursuit, and embrace, of certainty. It’s not that we need 100% certainty in everything but we worry when there is too much certainty.

That said. Not all uncertainty is created equal. We accept some, no matter how uncomfortable, but the shifting of something from certain to uncertain is a jolt to the system. The consequence of that jolt is doubt. Yeah. Doubt resides squarely between certainty and uncertainty. So bear with me while I begin with the quote above where the teen blogger is talking about a person because I tend to believe all of us have faced some version of this in our own lives.

So, typical of our own teen years, someone who they were unequivocally certain was one thing (let’s suggest a BFF … gosh .. who would have ever thought I would type that in something I wrote) and then something happens, say that person does something that firmly places them on the uncertainty pedestal, and all of a sudden doubt, who has been standing in the background idly watching, steps forward front and center.


And once doubt has stepped into this space it almost always takes on geometric proportions. That is what happens when you start questioning the unquestionable.

Now. While I used a teen to make a point, I tend to believe this is true with, well, everything but, in particular, in business.

Best practice is certain to work, until it doesn’t.

A process is certain to work, until it doesn’t.

A tried & true idea is certain to work, until it doesn’t.

Supply chains are certain to work, until they don’t.

You get it.

You get the point. There are certain things we count on, things we are certain of, and when they fail us it feels much much bigger than a transactional failure, more a failure of structure/foundation.

Now. I personally believe consistency is underrated or at least certainly overlooked. And I say that being a ‘change is my constant companion and friend’ kind of guy.

Which leads me back to the worst of uncertainties – uncertainty with people. This is the worst because no matter how independent we all want to feel, no matter how much we want to say “I control my own destiny”, no matter how much we feel we are accountable for all our choices, we, and our lives, are part of a grander weave of human connections and people doing the same thing I suggested. If you are uncertain of people, the weave doesn’t look like a maze, it looks like a trapeze walk. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out living life 100% like it is walking a trapeze line is not sustainable.

All of this leads me to consistency of character and consistency of values (or ethics).

Well. Let me take that back.

It is simply consistency which begets certainty. That certainty becomes a functional and emotional cornerstone to us. We seek this consistency in ourselves and we seek it among others. It is comforting, steadying and necessary to have a sustainable healthy life.

I say that because when something happens that makes you question what was once unquestionable it isn’t just one of the worst feelings. It’s like getting kicked in the gut. Not because you are disappointed in them or what happened. You are disappointed in yourself. And, as noted earlier, if you aren’t really really careful that disappointment (which lead to uncertainty of yourself) can take on geometric proportions. In other words, doubt steps in to replace certainty.

And that may be the worst feeling in the world.

How do I feel confident suggesting it is the worst feeling in the world? Well. Let’s compare it to what I would consider the best feeling in the world:

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing”, said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Let me end where I began.

Not all uncertainty is created equal.

Uncertainty, where there was once certainty, carries a larger negative value than general uncertainty in a situation.

It’s almost like assessing the uncertainty value proposition. The higher the uncertainty value the higher the doubt and doubt is a real sonuvabitch.

Just ponder.

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Written by Bruce