Notes From the Front Porch: Uncertainty

Ideas, perspectives and stories to help you lead and live


I have spent much of my life resisting it. 

Ten years ago, I had just left the family business I was supposed to buy, where I had served as president and CEO and where I was certain I would be for all of my working days. I left because staying became too difficult and my body was telling me I had to go to be healthy. After 16 years there, I stepped into uncertainty that was both terrifying and delightful. 

I took deep gulps of freedom and felt like I could actually see tiny hints of who I really was. I was elated and devastated at the same time. I had no idea what I would do for work moving forward because I left with no plan. There was no plan because I had to unravel a lifetime of pleasing and passive behavior, (don’t think that this type of reactivity doesn’t include anger—it does) to make room for more of myself. A friend called it my Tarzan moment because I had let go of one vine having not grabbed the next one, and I was in a free fall. It was uncomfortable as hell. There were days I didn’t know how I could possibly make it through to the other side of the great void I felt. And I was scared.

Then, I started Downstream Partners. I began working with organizations on leadership, having honest and important conversations and creating cultures that were made for collaboration, connection and some seriously successful outcomes like growth, solid revenue and strong profits. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. 

If I hadn’t been hanging out there in uncertainty, I wouldn’t have done it, which is pretty much how it feels now.

As Downstream Partners celebrates 10 years in business, we are facing life-changing uncertainty, again. Here we are in a global pandemic with just about everything topsy-turvy. Again, I see that necessity is the mother of invention. We’re working to keep connected to clients in new ways and experimenting with how to extend an experience that is valuable and still true to us. It’s all new and we are all feeling vulnerable. Some days we’re frustrated, some days we’re just ok, some days we’re the “new” kind of good, and all the while, we’re wrestling with uncertainty. We don’t know how things will look next month, let alone next year.

If I hadn’t faced uncertainty 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be doing the work I now know I was made for with people I truly adore. I would be hanging on to something that wasn’t working and that ‘kept me tamed,’ as Glennon Doyle would say. Not knowing was the scariest ride, which came with twists and turns and too many blind corners to count. Not knowing is also what led to discovery, ideas that were bigger than I thought I was ready for, and my reinvention into a truer form of myself.

Ten years into a life I hadn’t even imagined, do I like uncertainty any better? Nope. Do I believe it can lead to new and better things? With all of my being. The journey has helped me get more comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is especially helpful in this time. Here’s to the upside of uncertainty.

Oars up,
~ GG

What We’re Up To

Right now, we are spending more time than ever helping leaders have good, productive conversations about very tough decisions. The big questions that are common among businesses are:

  • How do we protect ourselves financially from the economic impacts of this pandemic?
  • Where do we need to pivot or evolve our business to meet new needs, and how do we do that? 
  • How do we support our team in keeping resilient so they can sustain themselves through this time?
  • How do we keep our team connected and structure virtual time in a way that’s meaningful and engaging AND not overwhelming?  
  • How do we guide our teams through the coming weeks and months, understanding that people have different levels of fear and risk tolerance about returning to the workplace? How can we be supportive and stay out of judgment based on our own fears and reactive patterns?    

In addition to client conversations, we’ve also been hosting virtual resilience sessions to support teams and help them to manage their energy and stress levels. With the amount of uncertainty everyone is feeling, keeping our resilience up is crucial. And, we transformed our spring Dare to Lead™ workshop into a virtual experience. Going virtual has opened up new avenues that we’re excited to explore.

We are also constant learners so we’ve used this time to build new tools and skills and have worked to bring our clients our best thinking and ideas. In fact, GG recently earned her certification in EQ-i 2.0®, which is an Emotional Quotient Inventory tool to support leaders in their emotional intelligence, performance and well-being. Particularly relevant to these times, it helps leaders lean further into their self-awareness and gain a new understanding for where they might be leaking energy and losing their resilience. 

Abbey continues to develop special expertise in the management of personal energy to support workplace resilience and creativity. Whether it’s a quick face yoga break during a Zoom session, an energy work session or through sharing new mindfulness techniques, we’re finding energy management tools to be especially important to leaders right now.

The Importance of Organizational Resilience

Research shows that organizational resilience is the new driver of employee satisfaction. We define resilience as the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge, change or adversity.

At a time when the pace of change is leading to high levels of stress and burn out, an organization’s resilience makes a big difference in an employee’s experience and decision to stay. Add the stress and uncertainties of the pandemic, and the need for resilience is greater than ever. 

We know that building individual resilience helps build collective resilience in our organizations and families.

Where We’re Finding Inspiration

We’re big fans of podcasts, (they are great company on walks in between calls with clients), and we highly recommend Dr. Brené Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us. From her first episode when she talks about the fear and vulnerability of doing something for the ‘effing, (this is our word, she uses the real one) first time (FFT), her topics and guests have been just the right emotional salve during the pandemic.   

We’re also reading Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed.” It’s full of wisdom about how expectations of us and who we are meant to be are not always the same. Just one of the lessons we’ve taken from it is the need to make some time for fun. Especially in times of uncertainty, we need to allow ourselves some fun and lightness. That said, we’ll leave you with one of the excerpts from “Untamed” that makes us laugh:

Fun. I am confused about “fun.” Abby is always asking me “what do you do for fun?” I find the question aggressive. What is fun? I don’t do fun. I am grown-up. I do family, work, and trash TV. Repeat forever.

~ Glennon Doyle

(Abby is Glennon’s wife – just so you know.)

About the author