As an Olympic gold medalist, people frequently asked me “how do I push through the hardest times, when everything in me wants to quit?” As an entrepreneur, people often ask me, “how do I decide what move to make next, when I don’t have all the information I need?” The answer to both questions is the same, you build a tolerance for ambiguity, a skill both entrepreneurs and competitive athletes need.
Great athletes push their mind and body to the limit, even though there’s no guarantee of achieving the dream. Business legends constantly wade through a swamp of darkness, making decisions with far less information than desired and with way more on the line than they may like. Tolerance for ambiguity, the capacity to embark into the unknown without fully knowing what lies ahead, is a core skill every entrepreneur must build.
While the world’s greatest athletes and entrepreneurs embark out into the unknown, most of them have apprehensions, a deep respect for the risks, and even some fear of failure.
These legends aren’t just able to see things others can’t, and are definitely not immune to the pressure. Instead, they cultivate the skill for dealing with the ambiguity, for becoming more comfortable embarking out into it. To begin building this skill, you must be willing to:
- Start the journey. Nothing great happens without taking action. You’ve got to be ‘in’ the battle to win the war.
- Accept the fact that you don’t know all the answers. Instead of festering on finding the right answers, you find the right questions to ask that will equip you to make the right decisions, even when you have little information.
- Trust in the process, and make consistent, intentional improvements toward your goal.
- Stand with conviction that what you’re working toward matters, believing that this is the best use of your time, talent, and scarce resources.
- Know you can’t do it all, and get the right people on your team. Every great athlete has coaches who support and guide them, trainers who strengthen them, therapists who help guide them when they’re injured and struggling, and loved ones that nurture their competitive soul. Nobody can go it alone.
- Know you’re going to make mistakes, and owning up to them and learning from them is the key to fighting another day.
- Continually put yourself in ambiguous situations, where you aren’t sure of the answers and go after it anyway. The more you find yourself in places of ambiguity, the more comfortable you begin to feel with the ambiguity, and the more capable you are of making good decisions when faced with tough challenges.
Building a tolerance for ambiguity is like handling the heat of your favorite hot sauce…it takes repetition and a cool head. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, an athlete who makes it to the top, or a legitimate contender in anything you do, getting comfortable with ambiguity is key.
Be intentional about the actions you take…and do take action. You can build a tolerance for ambiguity. Start today.