To be or not to be

At the core of becoming antifragile in this time of change is the ability to take decisions, even when the situation around us is unclear and the outcome is difficult to predict.

Our key to unlocking this ability is a powerful idea that runs invisibly through almost every aspect of our culture. It gave Shakespeare’s Hamlet his most famous line, “To be, or not to be.” It shapes the defining mantra of the world’s most powerful nation: “You can be anything you want to be.” And it sits behind the universal structure of the “Hero’s Journey” that runs through almost every spellbinding, bestselling story ever told: from Casablanca to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones.

This is the idea that one day you might grow to fulfil your destiny, to become who you truly are.

Who we think we are (and who we think we aren’t) determines the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the cars we drive (or don’t). It shapes the jobs we choose, the ways we vote, and the people who become our friends, lovers, and life partners. Who we think we are determines every action we take: whether we follow the well-worn path or the road less travelled. And in a time of change, this small but powerful idea becomes even more important, for four main reasons.

The first is that a time of change will inevitably bring us challenges that make it harder to do the things we are used to doing and to have the things we are used to having. The challenges we find most difficult will then be the ones that have the greatest impact on our ability to maintain our sense of who we are, our identity. Being aware of this will make it easier to avoid knee-jerk responses and instead choose better responses.

The second reason is that the challenges which arise during times of change will often force us to make choices we’d rather not make, at times we’d rather not make them. Again, understanding this will help us to respond better.

The third reason is that if we approach these apparently difficult decisions not as ‘problems’ to be overcome but as opportunities to learn more about what matters most to us, then we can use them as opportunities to become clearer about who we most want to become.

And the fourth reason is that the clearer we are about who we most want to be (and not to be) the quicker and easier we will be able to make the decisions we need to make — even when facts are in short supply and the outcome is difficult to predict. And the more inspired we will then feel to get up each morning to do what we have chosen to do.

This time of change is forcing us to make decisions we would rather not make at times we would rather not make them. But if we use this as an opportunity to get clearer about who we most want to become then we will enable ourselves to take better, faster decisions and to focus our resources on whatever matters most to us.

In an uncertain changing world, this is the most control we can have. And this is the fourth step to becoming antifragile.

How easy do you find it to take decisions based on little or no information and without knowing what the outcome is going to be? Would it be useful to become better at doing this?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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