The Most Important Human Need Of All – Just Ask Those On Death Row

TightropeI learnt a vital lesson through adversity these past few weeks. It reminded me of something most of us need if we are to be at our best – at work, with relationships, in life. It’s so simple. And so devastating when not there. Here it is.

In Japan, inmates on death row were (maybe still are?) burdened with what ‘survivors’ reported as a fate worse than death. You see, in that system, you were told you were to die, but not when. In some cases, death row inmates sat out 20 years awaiting their fate. Whenever they heard footsteps approaching their cell, that could be the moment they would die. The footsteps passed your door- you lived another hour, another day. Imagine living that way- for 20 years!

And that’s the point of my story. I was reminded this week of the devastating power one simple state of being, and word, can have on our lives and ability to perform at our best. Here it is. Is it true for you too?

Uncertainty- it destroys our confidence. Certainty- it underpins and accelerates confidence.

It’s as simple as that. Have you ever been ‘paralysed with doubt’? That’s uncertainty screwing you up.

Fact is, what we want most is certainty. We can find ways to deal with certainty. But constantly wondering ‘Will it, or won’t it?’…. now, that is genuinely debilitating.

I got the reminder these past few weeks as medical test after test could not pinpoint the cause of pain in my gut. I trawled the internet to self-diagnose (a disastrous thing to do!).  I speculated and fretted, and always concluded a worst case. I became ‘paralysed with doubt.’ The doctors then speculated gall bladder. Out it came. The pathology report- got it last night, and was told ‘rotten gall bladder- worst we have seen! But all fixed now…’

Certainty. Done and dusted. Get on with it.

Will you be picked for the team? No. Ok- certainty- I can deal with that.

Will I get that new job? Yes! Onwards! Start planning.

Is my boss happy with my work? Or not? ASK HER! Get clarity. Certainty.

Are we delivering to the client’s expectations or are they considering repitching? Do a feedback session- get a reality check done, and get certainty.

Am I really sick and will I die? Want to stay in that state of uncertainty, or get an answer? I vote for certainty. Every time.

Sometimes it’s the pace we work at, and the amount we try to do, that creates uncertainty. We get overwhelmed. Try to calm it down. Try to breath. Try to simplify. Simplicity gives us certainty, and certainty we can deal with.

Whenever I feel doubt… about me, my offer, value proposition, relationships, future, whatever… I immediately go to my Third Place (Starbucks invented the notion- we have work, we have home, but where is our Third Place,  where we feel calm, comfortable, and where we can quietly work for an hour away from home and work?). At my Third Place, I push myself for simplicity and clarity on what’s at the core of my feeling …and then what actions I need to take to get certainty.

I can deal with setbacks and disappointment. I can immediately learn the lesson and make a plan to move forward and make progress. But there is NOTHING to be gained from uncertainty- from not knowing. It eats away at you, puts you on edge, erodes that critical ‘must have’ of confidence, and becomes an insidious enemy.

Push for certainty. And you will be able to move forward with confidence, no matter what that path needs to be.

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10 Responses to The Most Important Human Need Of All – Just Ask Those On Death Row

  1. steam showers October 30, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    high-class steam showers and whirlpool bathtub at the very best

  2. Iain October 30, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    So true. Great post and great to hear your the gall bladder is fixed. Read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He discovered after living through four Nazi death camps ““Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Iain

  3. Aryeh Sternberg October 30, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Great one Chris.

    From my as-of-yet published book, the Two Step process fits in well, which while in the book is attributed to taking advantage of Opportunity, can be aptly applied here . . . simply put:

    Step 1: See it.

    Step 2: Do it.

    In this case, it’s about LISTENING to your body/mind/spirit for that niggling feeling that something is out of whack, SEEing it, then taking action and asking that all important question, which needs to be the The Right Question, which is the DOing it part.

    Uncertainty leads to doubt, doubt leads to poor decision making, which leads you to wherever you may end up.

    As we used to say back home, “At the end of the day . . . ” – feel free to fill that in for yourself.


  4. Gerhard Myburgh October 30, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    This is a really great insight! So simple and yet so unbelievably true.

  5. Victoria October 30, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Very true – and very apt for me right now! I’ve been spending a lot of time in my ‘third place’ – a.k.a the swimming pool. Great time for thinking and seeking clarity on feelings etc.

    Thank you for yet another great blog post!

  6. Richard October 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Do you know what the most asked for drink is by death row inmates for their last mean? Diet Coke. Go figure

  7. Anjali October 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    Great post! Seeking clarity and certainty is far more productive and healthy than fretting and stressing over what MIGHT happen. Equally important, however, is learning to deal with uncertainty in a healthy, mature way. Life, by definition, is full of surprises – some good, others less so, and we need to develop mechanisms to cope with uncertainty when answers may not be so clear-cut or easily available.

  8. Wendy Cole October 30, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    Thanks Chris – a great reminder of the importance of certainty and clarity. And the 3rd space was a timely reminder for me too. Keep writing! Cheers!

  9. Stu September 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm #


    • Chris Savage September 16, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      Thanks Stuart.

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