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Being ‘emotionally fit’ can get you through the roadblock of uncertainty  

By Kace O'Neill | |8 minute read

Uncertainty is something everyone faces throughout their careers and can materialise from various circumstances. Learning to deal with it can be vital for those seeking progression in their career.

The roller-coaster of uncertainty

HR Leader recently spoke to emotional fitness expert Joe Pane about uncertainty and the role that one’s emotions play throughout one’s daily work endeavours. Pane describes emotional fitness as our relationship with uncertainty and that the relationship in which we have with uncertainty is the “single most important psychological relationship we have”.


“Uncertainty has been present in our lives in micro and macro ways in the form of challenge or pressure or stress or adventures or our responsibilities. We might get a promotion, or we might be moving into a different team, or we might have a different person to report to. These are all versions of uncertainty in the form of change,” Pane said.

With uncertainty being ever-present, workers must learn to wrestle with it and not let it overwhelm them when unexpected or even expected changes arise. The positive affirmation you can associate with uncertainty is that nine times out of 10, the next step is growth, which can be reassuring for someone succumbing to that uncertainty.

“Because uncertainty is a precursor. It’s a prerequisite to growth. And growth is the perpetual need of the human condition. I know it sounds obvious, but without growth, we die like everything in nature does,” Pane said.

“The core seed that massively contributes to the way that we grow is how functional our relationship is with uncertainty. Because uncertainty is that precursor. It’s a fabric of life. It’s the fabric of every successful career.”

Like growth, uncertainty is something that will follow workers throughout their careers. At times, people will want that ugly feeling of uncertainty to disappear entirely, but along with that would be room for growth. Instead of wishing it away, learning to treat it as a positive and embracing change should be the way forward.

“No, you don’t want it to go away because if it goes away, you’ll die. Uncertainty will never go away. It’s us getting better at it. So, emotional fitness is not about making uncertainty easier. It’s about giving us a sense of direction and clarity on being effective at navigating it,” Pane said.

“So [we should be] welcoming change and how we look at change because a lot of people don’t like change, but they like growth, and it’s the same thing.”

Being emotionally fit

Having an understanding of emotional fitness in your personal repertoire can be a huge asset when dealing with these internal problems, almost like a toolkit to dismantle the overthinking and stress that can arise when faced with uncertainty.

“Rather than living in denial, a lot of people in the work environment when they go through a change, go through a mini grieving period. And if we look at the stages of grief on a macro level, it’s the same on a career-based level when something ceases to exist and something new begins. Acceptance is a big part of that,” Pane said.

Without that understanding of emotional fitness, the process of going through change and uncertainty can be gruelling, and a wide range of feelings can bubble to the surface, depleting one’s energy and desire in the workplace. Pane breaks that process down into four steps.

“The initial reaction is denial. That’s the first part: I can’t believe this is happening. The second part of the framework is anger. And some people do get angry, but it’s an emotional reaction. Anger could be in the form of frustration,” Pane said.

“Then there’s a sadness, and then there’s finally acceptance. The faster we can get through that and get to acceptance, the more emotionally fit, the more, the more robust we are in keeping up with who we’re becoming and the changes happening in our work environment.”

Speed running that emotional roller-coaster to get to the acceptance stage can be difficult, and similar to physical fitness, having the emotional fitness to endure that takes repetition and resiliency.

Balancing act

Emotional fitness isn’t gained overnight, and having the knowledge of when to evoke emotion or be more reserved is an important skill set that is needed in the workplace. Being able to remain steady on the seesaw of when to show emotion and when not to, can be a difficult balancing act.

“Emotions are important because it flavours every nook and cranny of our experience. So, if you’re communicating emotionally, that’s when strife and problems can pop up. Because emotions tend to distort what it is that we’re trying to say,” Pane said.

“But the emotion has to move. We can’t suppress it. If we suppress it, eventually, it will blow in our faces. So, we need to have an outlet for that emotion to move out of our system if there is that frustration.”

He concluded by comparing the balancing act dynamic to that of a wicketkeeper. Keepers are constantly balancing different feelings throughout the duration of a match, and often have to demonstrate that strong mental fortitude in their role.

When the ball isn’t in play, they’re loose, usually throwing a bit of chat, somewhat mucking around. But when the ball is being bowled, they are locked in emotionally and physically, limiting those distractions by being fully focused on the task at hand. Pane believes workers can have that similar mindset.

“There are moments where we need to be absolutely hands on deck and focused. And during that focus, you can’t be emotional. But once that moment has concluded, you can let go of that focus without impacting the game, impacting your career, impacting your career path, then that’s where you find those healthy outlets,” Pane concluded.

“The wicketkeeper can’t be on at that level all day, every day, for five days, but neither can workers. It’s just like in a career, [you have to pick your moments].”

Like how athletes have mental strength, emotional fitness acts the same in the workplace. If workers can learn how to hone it and use it as an asset, then these prior internal issues such as uncertainty can be maintained and brushed in a much faster sequence than previous experiences.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Joe Pane, click below:

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.