Do the Limbo. Or, How to Be ‘Comfortable with Ambiguity’
I am in limbo. Complete and utter limbo.
However, the bar is not set low and I am not trying to shimmy under. The bar is high and I am aspiring to clear it like a Fosbury Flop.
It’s not supposed to be like this as a 54-year-old, according to societal expectations. I’m supposed to be settled, stable, predictable, a rock, boring in my steadiness. I chose another path, paved with uncertainty. It’s come with a loss of income, stability and predictability. But I expect the payoff will come in the form of greater life and career satisfaction, and income growth ultimately will follow as I hopefully find passion in my work.
My limbo status is largely of my own design and in small part due to the bugaboo of bureaucracy.
I have 11 days left until my second summer teaching tennis at the Sea Colony resort in Bethany Beach, DE runs out on Labor Day and I return home, jobless and anxious but optimistic. I have spent nearly two years in the Gig Economy, ever since a non-amicable parting with a former employer allowed me to place more focus on a master’s degree program in clinical mental health counseling and the two years of internships required to complete it, as part of a midlife career transition from public relations to counseling. I have been scrambling to piece together part-time, temporary and contractual jobs since I dropped out of the routine 9-to-5 world.
I graduated in May 2017, and expected that tennis teaching for 3 ½ months would provide the perfect bridge to the new career, allowing enough time for me to obtain the state license I need to be eligible to practice, get hired and begin work. But bureaucracy has brought that plan to a grinding halt, possibly leading me to the unemployment office rather than a counseling office, at least temporarily.
A long waiting period to get access to my “official verified” National Counselor Exam report has left my state license applications – and thus job prospects – in limbo, even though I have already been notified that I passed the exam. The blood pressure ticked a little higher each day over the last six weeks as I awaited an email notification from the national counselor certification body that my school transcript met all requirements, along with my exam score, for certification.
One former boss wrote in my annual performance review that I needed to be “comfortable with ambiguity.” That was corporate speak for an organization refusing to accept accountability for its disorganization, poor leadership and incoherent, vacillating strategy. Ironically, now that I’ve left that organization, the advice applies.
My immediate future is ambiguous. I don’t know where I’ll be working as a counselor, or when. I don’t know how long it will take state licensing boards to review my applications and grant a license. I don’t even know what state I will be living in, as I have applied for license in Maryland and South Carolina.
So, what have I learned about being “comfortable with ambiguity?”
- Take things one day at a time, as cliché as that may sound. Thinking too much about unknowns in the future produces excessive worry but no solutions.
- Pursue aggressive actions whenever possible to address things over which you do have control, such as making networking contacts, applying to jobs and following up on leads. Taking action tends to boost motivation, confidence and attitude.
- Detach from the cell phone and computer for periods of time. It’s tempting when living with job and income uncertainty to obsessively check for email and phone contacts, which increases anxiety each time none have come through.
- Have faith that putting what you want to attract into the universe ultimately will materialize for you, with persistence, patience and a positive outlook.
- Continue doing things you like to do (that are free or low-cost) to keep your spirits high and take your mind off worries.
- Squirrel away your nuts (money). Live cheaply (the Minimalist lifestyle) while dealing with ambiguity, to reduce financial pressures.
Limbo is not a comfortable place to be when you have financial and family obligations, when you feel like you should be occupying a certain status and you’re not, and when you like to plan and predict your life with a high degree of certainty. But for me, my current state of limbo is a necessary part of the process of getting where I want to be, just another stage of the journey, another bar to traverse.