Financial Goal-Setting Amid Uncertainty

Uncertainty: Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It

On the surface, uncertainty sucks.

I'm coming out of a recent tango with the uncertainty monster myself...

I've shared with many of you that I am (among many other things) a med school wife. After my husband and I graduated from college together, I began working at a digital marketing agency while my husband worked on getting his engineering PhD. Hubs also took a year off to stay home with our baby boy, bless him. And after that, he ALSO went through medical school. Whew! 

It has now been over a decade since Hubs graduated from college. Dude is credentialed AF at this point - and ready to get out there and actually start DOING. So last fall, he interviewed at different hospitals around the country. Mid-winter, we picked our favorite hospital programs together. Our whole family was psyched.

But the way the process works, we had to wait to hear which hospital Hubs would be "matched" with. Like, a loooong time. Like, we literally just found out last week.

So imagine our frame of mind, if you will. A decade-long training process. A months-long interview process. The looming prospect of a huge new adventure, moving our family to an entirely new place. Then...staring at a ticking clock, just waiting for a decision.

Last week was the dramatic reveal. If you've never heard of the Match Day ceremonies medical students attend each year, you should Google it. Cuh-razy town. Everyone congregates at their schools, where they are given envelopes containing their "matched" hospital assignments. At high noon - (I'm not making this up, I swear) - everyone opens their envelopes at the same moment. There are screams and shouts, fists pumped triumphantly in the air, hugs, tears of joy, tears of relief, even a few tears of disappointment.

Fortunately, MY family is thrilled with our match. But the outpouring of emotion I witnessed at the Match Day ceremony reminded me just how much we humans love resolution...and hate uncertainty.

Don't Get Me Wrong: We NEED Some Uncertainty

Without uncertainty, our lives would be...boring. We wouldn't be driven to improve things. We wouldn't pour our hearts into the causes we believe in. And we sure wouldn't have any entrepreneurial dreams.

We often complain about how unbearable uncertainty can seem. (And it does! Exhibit A: my opening rant).  ;)

But the discomfort that comes with uncertainty also drives us to take charge of a situation. Instead of being a passenger forever, we hear that whisper in our ear to go ahead and take the freakin' wheel already!

As entrepreneurs, we have to understand the value of a little uncertainty.

But We Can't Let Uncertainty Take Over

The problem with uncertainty arises when it drives us to chronic anxiety and paralysis.

We want our uncertainty to motivate us like a whisper in the ear - not a monkey on the back.

And it's easy to let uncertainty take over- especially when we're worried about BIG things potentially changing everything in our lives or businesses.

For entrepreneurs, there are a lot of unknowns always lurking around the corner. Market changes in our industries. The economy at large. Even our personal circumstances (like divorce, the addition of a new child to the family, an ailing relative) can have a big impact on the time and energy we're used to spending on our businesses.

The key is to find some peace in the midst of the chaos that uncertainty creates. Here's how I attempt this in my life:

Step 1: Face Your Fears

I've gotten into the practice of really examining my fears closely. Don't get me wrong: staring your fear in the face is uncomfortable. But it's momentary. I always walk away from the exercise feeling lighter.

Let's use an example that's familiar to every entrepreneur: finances. Let's say you're sweating bullets and losing sleep over the threat of an economic recession that might (among other things) reduce your customers' buying power.

Rather than continue to imagine this looming, fierce, menacing monster you need to hide from- examine it up close for a minute. Imagine your worst-case scenario. Then study its features. Figure out which of your business metrics would be impacted by that economic downturn. (Revenue? Sales numbers? Price point? Operating expenses? Your own salary?)

STEP 2: Dance With Your Fears

Next, we're going to dance with the monster. With uncertainty, we fear a certain outcome. But remember- simply thinking about the problem is painless

Imagine some specific ways of protecting your business from a potential economic calamity. Run it by the monster, and see how it would respond.

Keep up this "dance" until you've come up with a few key solution ideas.

In our financial example, one of your business metrics of concern is probably your sales numbers. So maybe you come up with a few ideas to improve your conversion rate which don't have anything to do with the economy. Maybe there are ways to use an economic recession as a messaging point to better connect with (and help!) your customers.

STEP 3: Plan For What You CAN Control

Finally, we're going to put numbers to your worst-case scenario

At this point - after facing your fears and dancing with them for a bit - you'll probably be in a calmer frame of mind. This calm gives you some much-needed head space. Now you can think strategically and clearly about your plan of action.

For our financial example- I would do some basic, scratch-paper calculations using your profit formula, with your worst-case scenario event in mind. Overestimate your expenses. Create multiple scenarios for your sales numbers: if the economic factors turn out as expected, better, or worse. What's it all going to cost you?

Then apply those key solution ideas you came up with in Step 2. Realistically, could your ideas improve your business metrics as much as you might need them to? If not, what solutions haven't you thought of? Are there alternate revenue streams, like affiliate marketing, to consider? 

Rinse and repeat- until you feel like YOU are the one in control.

The Bottom Line

No one knows what the future holds. And of course, this planning exercise won't guarantee any particular results. But it WILL prepare you to be smart and adept whenever that big scary monster named Uncertainty decides to present itself.


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