Chronic Uncertainty and FFTs

If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal;’ there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.” ~ Jim Collins

Are you a podcast fan? What are some of your favorites?

I listen to a few, typically when I’m doing something physical and I’m by myself. The other day I was doing the dishes before Camille got home, and catching up on some podcasts in the queue. One of which was a Brene´ Brown Unlocking Us episode from the end of last year.

Full disclosure: I think Brene´ Brown is one of the smartest people on the planet and she’s doing some incredible work. Her book Dare To Lead is one of the most impactful books I’ve read in the past five years.

Anyway, I’m listening to the episode entitled “The Queen’s Gambit, Revisiting FFTs, and Resting Our Tired Brains.” I’ve posted a link to the episode at the bottom of this email. Brown states the above quote from Jim Collins, which is from his new book. He responds to historian Edward T. O’Donnell’s comment that “History is the study of surprises.”

Effing First Times

Brown has coined the term “FFTs” for “effing first times.” FFTs speak to the anxieties we encounter when stepping outside our comfort zones and doing something for the first time. Or, coming up against a challenge we’re facing for the first time.

She has also developed a three-pronged strategy to deal with FFTs:

  1. Name it. Recognize that you’re in an FFT and that it’s uncomfortable and hard. 
  2. Give it perspective. This is not permanent, and I’ve survived other FFTs in my life. This too shall pass.
  3. Reality check perspectives. This is the first effort; it won’t be easy, fast, or fun; and it won’t be perfect.

Building off Collins’s quote, Brown talks about the permanent nature of FFTs in our lives. While COVID may pass, or at least diminish, our chaotic, disruptive culture will be on-going. 2020 was just practice for how we’ll need to deal with FFTs going forward: “working from home, holidays without families, running NASA-level risk analysis for every decision we make about our kids…Future planning with no sense of what’s coming.” 

And no end in sight. 

Sound familiar?

Are you exhausted yet?

FFTs Are Not Going Away

Brown suggests that rather than seeing FFTs as disruption, we should prepare for them. We should integrate them into our lives, not see them as exceptions. 

Just because we’ll experience more FFTs in our lives, doesn’t mean they get easier or more comfortable. We’ll need to expect discomfort and normalize it. We’ll need to choose courage over comfort. We’ll need to be continual “learners” rather than “knowers.” We’ll need to embrace the suck.

To cope with perpetual FFTs,  Brown has added two more strategies to her initial three: 

  1. Build in rest and recovery. Basically, get plenty of sleep. Our brains need to rejuvenate and sleep is the best way for that to happen. This is good news for people like me who cherish a daily nap.
  2. Stay in fit FFT condition. This is an individualized strategy. It may be different for each of us. It could be a physical condition, an emotional one, a spiritual one, or all three or a combination. 

How Will You Cope?

There’s a lot in this podcast episode — a lot more than I’ve touched on here. It’s over 30 minutes long. But it had a big impact on me in terms of chronic uncertainty, FFTs, and perpetual new normals — or “next normals,” as Chris Brogan has called them.

How comfortable are you with all this, especially in the context of jobs and careers? How are you handling this permanent disruption? Does Brown’s FFT coping strategy help?

Send me an email and let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I can be reached at

By the way, here’s the podcast link I mentioned above: Brené on The Queen’s Gambit, Revisiting FFTs, and Resting Our Tired Brains.

A version of this post was sent earlier this year to my email newsletter subscribers. If you’d like to get my best work first, subscribe to the newsletter. I NEVER share your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time if it’s not a good fit.

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Image copyright : Andy Dean