Editorial: A Note About Uncertainty

Hello again, and welcome to the second issue of the Iron Warrior for the 2017 Spring Term. Before we get to the bulk of my little editorial I’d like to thank all of The Iron Warrior‘s fantastic copy editors, layout editors, and staff! Your hard work is appreciated; I know we are operating a little lean this term and I’m pushing for all sorts of strange ‘lean and efficient’ ways to run each issue and meeting (haha, when was the last time a management engineering student was EIC again?). All of my co-op positions have been either as a project/program manager or in process improvement, I can’t help it (at least that’s my excuse).

As always, The Iron Warrior is made possible by the combined efforts of friendly and dedicated students, so a big thank you goes out to our contributors and friends who submitted articles and wrote for us during this issue. That being said, I cordially invite all our readers to send as an email if you want to write for The Iron Warrior or if you want to join our (almost-always) merry group. Similarly, if you have an opinion, argument, or praise for anything you read on our paper feel free to let us know.  You can find us at E2-2345 (usually during meetings on Tuesday 1730h-1830h) or through our email address at iwarrior@uwaterloo.ca.

So we’re a couple weeks into the term now, and it’s just about that time in the term when people tend to realize they’re either doing alright, or starting to fall behind. This is also that time of the term when one of two things start to happen: folks either tend to start falling off the face of the earth or actually start showing up to lectures in a mad dash to catch up just before midterms hit. Naturally, it’s about this time of the term when the uncertainty starts to creep in. From what I’ve seen this can hit some first years who are in their 1B term pretty hard, and it can be pretty easy to doubt or feel uncertain about their prospective academic lives and options.

Looking back at my own 1B term, the picture is pretty much painted the same way (although it was during the Winter term). Without a doubt, I think one of the most difficult terms for me was 1B; it was more or less a story of never-ending uncertainty, or at least I saw it that way. Personally, I struggled with keeping up with school work and hobbies, while outright disregarding anything related to mental health. I learned much later on that my approach was the wrong way to go about university (and perhaps life in general).  One thing I clearly remember was dropping out of my beloved extra-curriculars one after the other, and wondering if I’ve made the right choice to come to UW.

If you’re in engineering or in the co-op program, this is also that time of the term when co-op postings are running amuck, and interviews are starting to ramp up. For many, the interviews (or lack thereof) can be an anxiety inducing affair.  I remember talking to roommates and friends who all had a slew of interviews lined up, while I was starting to panic about my very obvious lack of them. As if hunting for jobs isn’t difficult enough, this also often ends up raising the question “Where the hell am I going to live next term?” which further adds to our list of uncertainty-inducing woes.

Enough being said, it is without a doubt that many, if not most, students often find themselves unsure about where they are and how they’ll tackle that next hurdle or how they will handle that next challenge. It’s surreal sometimes, because you run into people who seem to have everything in perfect order and are so confident in their step when, in contrast, you don’t even know whether you should take that next step or not.

For most humans the typical response to all this doubt and uncertainty is to try to impose some sort of order and regain control. Let’s face it: a lot of us fear uncertainty and, more often than not, it’s this fear that pushes us towards irrational and illogical behaviour. We as humans also favour the path of least resistance, and students would be well acquainted of that impulse to crash on the couch instead of starting that forty-something page report, or cracking open that seemingly overpriced textbook. At the same time, we should also be aware that such behaviour and neurotic actions does very little to actually help our fear of uncertainty, but usually does quite the opposite, adding to the anxiety. Who hasn’t felt that surge of panic when they’ve wasted 3 hours napping, cleaning, or loafing instead of actually studying for that midterm, or applying to more postings on WaterlooWorks / Jobmine?  The uncertainty of tomorrow, the disorder that exists is still there waiting for us.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), it is not just us engineering students, or us university students that get affected by this fear of uncertainty. You must have seen it in co-op, or in daily life: how stressed and how irrational people can get when they are under pressure or are tossed in unpredictable situations riddled with ambiguity. Not everyone is confident in the face of complexity, and history has proven time and time again that people like order; humans crave some sort of direction in their lives. We like being in control.

The world as a whole reflects this fact, there are a multitude of people wrestling for control, or falling apart in the face of uncertainty. A quick check of your favourite news sites will show headlines featuring people—often those in very influential positions—reacting to the uncertainty that they face. One such example close to home are all of the reactions to Kathleen Wynne’s proposed increase of minimum wage to $15, which has generated heated discussions, arguments, criticisms, and praises. Flipping through the pages of this issue of The Iron Warrior you can find even more examples from the world at large. Hasan’s article on the Manchester Terrorist Attack and Raeesa’s article on the bombing in Baghdad both show precisely how people around the world are struggling with the fear of uncertainty and pushing for control in their own ways. Similarly, this issue’s article featuring the recent call for martial law in the southern half of the Philippines shows the country’s reaction to the destabilization of a region, as well as the people’s fear of uncertainty in the future both for the country and its president.

Alright, so all this being said what should we do? How do we handle this situation and deal with what has plagued a good portion of the human race for such a long time? Well, the only fragments of advice that I can give out are the ones that have worked (so far) for myself. The first is finding peace with the fact that you are not the only one struggling with this, and that folks in much bigger shoes past and present have faced uncertainty. Learning from the more successful people out there, we need to realize that we can’t be in control of everything and live in a world where we’re certain of what’s going to happen next!

What we can do however, is control where we are now, and how we react to the uncertainty that we face. When uncertainty makes a decision or situation difficult, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that EVERYTHING is uncertain, but usually that’s not the case. One thing we can do in these situations is to take a step back and do a quick ‘stock check’ of the things that we do know and what we don’t know. Realizing that there are things we do know aids in keeping our fear in check keeps us grounded in reality. Explicitly reminding ourselves of what we do know leads us to realizing there are things that we do have control over, and this often helps in making a more rational decision or reaction to the situation. Give it a shot: try to look at things from a different perspective. This is especially useful when you’re in an emotionally-charged situation.

The next piece of advice that I will mention, I have to admit is one that I often struggle with myself: embracing what we can’t control. As I’ve mentioned multiple times, we all like being in control. A constant side effect of this, however, is we can become obsessed with all the things that we CAN’T control. For some (like myself) this can cause us to lock-up and prevent us from actually making any decisions. To prevent this, we really do need to learn to acknowledge the things we can’t control and focus on what we can: the process in which we reach our decisions. Most successful folks in the real world are in sync with the uncertainty they face and aren’t afraid of acknowledging what’s causing it, whether it’s through their own fault or not.

Anyway, that’s all I have for this issue, and with that I’d like to end by paraphrasing German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche: “Madness is the result not of uncertainty but of certainty.”

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