Embrace uncertainty

  • Michael Aun
    Michael Aun
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We fear the uncertain. Not only is it natural it would be an expected and normal response.

What if? What if we embraced uncertainty instead of hiding from it? What if we enjoyed the almost certain beauty associated with the unveiling the unknown? You might deduct from that narrow definition that anything is possible when nothing is certain.

My dear friend of almost four decades is a man named W. Mitchell who is in the Speaker Hall of Fame. Only a handful of us know his full name, but his moniker on the platform as one of America’s most celebrated motivational speakers is simply W. Mitchell.

Mitchell’s keynote address “It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do About It” is a classic. Hundreds of thousands have learned first-hand how he survived two life threatening accidents within four years. The devastating episodes left him burned from the first and paralyzed from the second.

His indomitable spirit is matched only by the amazing courage it took for him to survive and even thrive despite the physical limits. Mitchell has served in the Marines and worked as a grip-man on the San Francisco cable cars.

He is the former “Mayor Who Saved a Mountain” in Crested Butte, Colorado, a congressional nominee and radio and public television personality. You might call him a renaissance man. In 1975, Mitchell co-founded and chaired Vermont Castings, Inc., which put thousands of people to work.

Mitchell was awarded the Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE)-the pinnacle of recognition in platform speaking. He once told a patient at Craig Hospital in Denver: “Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I lost… or focus on the 9,000 I have left.”

As he delivers his message about “Taking Responsibility for Change,” you realize he has reached a unique understanding, through personal experience both the unexpected and the elusive. As the great baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean put it: “When you done done it, it ain’t braggin!”

Having overcome near-fatal burns and later paralysis from an airplane accident, two life threatening and life changing experiences, Mitchell now talks to groups about the possibilities of the human mind and spirit.

Mitchell embraced uncertainty and it allowed him to retitle the rest of his remarkable life. Most would have been happy to subsist. Not Mitchell. He persisted and is an inspiration to thousands of others, including his colleagues in the speaking profession.

When one looks behind the curtain at this amazing man, you can only conclude that despite all the doubts he faced in his incredible life, he has found a way to flourish and even prosper. My take… Mitchell embraced the uncertainty in his life and found a way to build on it.

No doubt, the current crisis in our country is perhaps the single best definition of the stress we feel around uncertainty. It is real and many of us now have a tiny taste of what it must have been like for W. Mitchell to exist, subsist, and even persist.

In many ways, courage is defined as the ability to deal with difficult and uncertain times without being overcome or overwhelmed by them. Martin Luther wrote, “Nothing in the world causes so much misery as uncertainty.”

Life goes on, whether you choose to move on and take a chance with the unknown as Mitchell did or stay barricaded in the past dreaming about what might have been.

The biggest uncertainty in life is the drama called “love.” One feels jealous but cannot complain. One feels pain and hurt but they cannot show it. Some people love with their whole heart and soul and cannot say it. Instead, they harbor the pain.

It is almost as if people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty. People like Mitchell embrace the uncertain and it helped to write some of the most important chapters of his life as he has touched the hearts and souls of thousands.

American actor Tony Shalhoub might have said it best: “I am living proof that uncertainty is vastly underrated and often times a blessing in disguise.”

Michael Aun, CSP, CPAE, is the author of “The Great Communicators”- Royal Publishing.