How to develop the skill of tolerance to face ambiguous challenges in a career

Any ambiguity at any stage is an uncertain situation, where nothing much is clear. This always happens in all careers and to anyone at any level. However, one needs to know the basic steps of developing Tolerance for Ambiguity as an important skill-set. This article is an attempt to focus on the basic steps required.


This is a real-world true story. The individual concerned had a B.Com degree from a fairly unknown college in a semi-urban area of the agriculturally rich Tanjore District of Tamil Nadu. He was not sure what to do. His sister's husband, based in Mumbai, advised him to move over to Mumbai and take up a job in Capital Markets. The young man took the plunge. He did not know Hindi and had never visited Mumbai. The ambiguous situation presented itself in all its splendour. Yet, the young man came over to Mumbai and took up a job in a small trading firm. In those days, the capital market was just coming into full stream. He multiplied the funds given to him within no time. He also learned Hindi. He made a smart move to the Canbank Mutual Fund and grew its portfolio very quickly. He soon became famous in the Mutual Fund ecosystem. He joined the Aditya Birla group and today, he is at the level of President, handling hundreds of crores and managing a big team of professionals in Capital Markets. He also acquired a Master's Degree in Financial Management from the University of Mumbai.

His name is Mr. Balasubramaniam, and he is always on television, offering advice on which stock is likely to perform well or which industry holds promise and so on. The truly ambiguous situation was managed with excellent grit and determination by Mr. Balasubramaniam. Had he stayed back in Tanjore, he would never have achieved what he did in this career.

Be that as it may, to develop the vital tolerance for ambiguity as a vital skill-set, one needs to a) Plunge into action and not worry about consequences; b) Develop Plan B and C or even D; c) Take action to renew yourself; d) Look for skill-sets that will nullify ambiguities; and e) Stick to long-term plans if you are in career-oriented jobs.

Plunge into action and not worry about consequences

Every ambiguous situation is an opportunity to do well. There will be career opportunities galore, only if you are prepared to understand the dynamics of the situation as Mr. Balasubramaniam did. Let us take the vital career of Supply Chain Management that is now a big career. Nothing works without experience. However, it is also essential to be prepared for all ambiguities. The career is not an easy one. To give the current example of the farmers' blockade of New Delhi, the challenge for the young professionals to somehow move the goods to the required destinations would as well be a nightmarish experience. However, learning from the hard grind in a terribly ambiguous situation will also be tremendous. However, only those professionals who have already plunged themselves into the career and not the doubting Thomases.

The consequences of any decision will unfold themselves only later. But the plunge has to be taken by you and none can influence it anyway. However, you need to take the plunge. In any given situation, the uncertainty and a bit or even more pronounced ambiguity will always be there. For instance, our venturing out in a car when the weather is not too good. But careers are meant for results. Time and tide will not wait for those who are not brave. One needs to be tactful but his or her actions are a must.

Develop Plan B and C or even D

Somewhere down the line, you also need financial security, when you get married and have a kid. Even if your wife is employed, you always a good corpus of money over the long term. What do you do? You need Plan B. Let us examine how that will unfold.

For example, let us imagine you have a corpus of two lakh rupees. You are doubtful of the outcome of COVID-19. This is a truly ambiguous situation. Yet, you need to invest the two lakh rupees. What do you do? The best option is to first zero in on good stocks that can always help you to beat the ambiguous situation. That is the "no risk" stocks. For example, HDFC Bank and ITC. And then wait for the right moment to strike. Buy sufficient quantities of the stock and wait for the long term. In this fashion, you are likely to be the winner over the long term. However, you need to take the plunge.

And now for the safer investment plans like the PPF, which will be the Plan B. Or going in for a well-built independent house somewhere near your native village that will not pinch your pocket. If that area is a semi-urban area, you can safely bet that the area will automatically develop over the years. You are safe and your financial position will also be good. This is plan C. And then shifting to a secure job for five years, in a good township environment, of a standard company, where you will be the big boss can help a great deal. Your child would have completed his tenth standard examination and would be ready for the plus two education when you can jump again to a good job in a big metro city. This will be plan D.

Those professionals who thought that they could always manage the big EMI ( sometimes as big as Rs.85,000 per month), were caught in a big problem when the wages were frozen or reduced and the merit payments did not come. One needs to be very careful to not fall into the debt trap because the cost of real estate in the big metros is very high. There is no point in locking all your money in such investments.

Take action to renew yourself

Mr. Mukesh (name changed) was a senior HR professional with IBM, based in Bangalore. When he was fifty years old, he knew the value of an Executive Coach Certificate that would stand him in good stead in the future. He spent a good three and a half lakh rupees from his own money, to acquire his skill. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, he was so busy and he was in big demand. This is exactly the kind of renewal of skill-sets that am talking about. If you are currently in an HR role, given the complexities of life, even in a semi-urban area, you will do well to acquire the Master's degree in Psychology and specialize in counseling skills or acquire the Post-Graduate Diploma in Guidance and Counseling now offered by some Universities in the online mode. If you are in marketing, you can park yourself for a couple of years in an advertising agency to learn all the tricks of the trade. You need to do what is relevant to you at some point in time.

Look for skill-sets that will nullify ambiguities

Let us revisit the example of your personal investment of two lakh rupees. It is not a joke. There are short-term courses available. There is even a Master's Degree in Investment Management courses available through the distance education mode. There are bankers who were very shrewd in understanding everything about insurance during their banking careers. Today, they are full-time officials in companies like Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance act as Insurance Advisors. Even during the lock-down, they were active in their own areas and still made money.

Stick to long-term plans if you are in career-oriented jobs

If you are already in a good job, say, with the Tatas, you can stay put. Work for the long term. Give your Management ideas on how to reduce cost at every opportunity, big or small. Keep on adding value. You are bound to be safe and can keep growing with the same organization. You can really wait for any crisis to blow over ( it always will). However, if you are around 42, in an IT company, you quickly need to go in for additional skill-sets, even if that means spending from your pocket, to be ready to take on any other job, should your job be in danger. This is exactly what happened at Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS). The horror stories of how experienced professionals were eased out of jobs were all over Youtube and Facebook. The only available option is to renew yourself so quickly and then plan for the long-term.


Based on a number of real-world experiences, including my own, I have tried to piece together some basic steps of dealing with uncertainties. Ambiguities will always happen, even after COVID-19 is gone. Some other thing will happen in a flash. We always need to be prepared for the long haul. We just do not have any choice.

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao17 Dec 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

Good article from the author. If you sit on the seashore and wait for the tides to come up to take a bath you can't ever take bath. Like this, if we start waiting for the things to happen, it will never happen. Go ahead while solving the problems you are getting during the progress. That is always the correct attitude. That is why I advise many people to start a career utilizing the chance you get and try to make use of the chance and get the maximum benefit. Your efforts may not always be successful. So we should have a fall back arrangement also which will make you confident and the works carried out with confidence will be always successful. Get updated always when you are in a particular field. That will help you perform well. If the skill set you have is good enough to carry on as of now, concentrate on future needs and try to get the skills required. That will help you stay ahead of others in the competitive world.

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