Living in Uncertainty

Aravind Padmanabhan
3 min readMay 2, 2021


“Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after will seem inadequate.”

— Michael Leavitt, a former secretary of US department of health.

On the midnight of 31st December 2020, one was relieved that the disastrous 2020 is behind us and we were hoping for a buoyant revival of all of our fortunes in the new year of 2021. As we finish 4 months of 2021, the feeling of helplessness is hard to digest even for the most cold-hearted.

This tells us a lot about how we ought to be dealing with these extremely uncertain times. First, we need to give hope a rest. Hope makes us restless and impatient while we are waiting for them to materialize. It increases our anxiety and desperation every passing day when the hope doesn’t materialize.

Hope can be a great motivator for us to take bets; when we know the universe of possibilities and their odds (Hoping for tails in a coin toss; hoping for a top rank in a class of 100 etc). In tail events like the current pandemic, we are in the realm of uncertainty. The universal set of possibilities is unknown and the universal set of possibilities is fast evolving every day. Hope is delusional under such circumstances.

Second — Throw the rear-view mirror out of the window. “I would have”, “You should have”, “You could have” are all tricks that we play with ourselves by conveniently misplacing our judgments in the timeline. Tail events are a result of the unknown. If anything about it was known, it wouldn’t have happened.

Repeating the same for emphasis — Tail events always stem from the unknown. We have to throw away our rear-view mirror. Else, they drain us off significant energy that can be put to much better use.

Third, is the realization that we are in the best position that the circumstances can offer. In other words, we are in a bottomless pit; there is nothing called a worst situation (or) there is no place for a statement like — “Things can’t get worse.”. You will be proved wrong before you finish that statement. You will know the bottom of this pit only after it has passed; possibly months (may be years) later.

Once we realize this, the only thing we ought to do, is to attempt to protect that position with all possible resources and effort. The earlier we hedge, the lesser the cost of the hedge.

In the current circumstances, protecting our position may mean getting vaccinated, staying indoors with very minimal external interface; or if we have to step out for our living, we protect ourselves with a double mask, goggles, a visor etc. Protect your downside. Once you protect yourself and if you have additional resources, help your extended family, community and more to hedge themselves.

Third — You may do every possible thing to protect the downside; but despite all possible efforts things will only get worse. All of us will lose something, and many of us will lose something very close. Desperation and anxiety will go up, while resources and available options will diminish. What do we do under such deterioration?

Remember — “You may still be having the best terms the situation has to offer. Brace the moment.”