6 ways to set yourself up for success amid uncertainty in 2022

Writer and stand-up comedian Sarah Lazarus recently tweeted, “no new years resolutions. it is the circumstances turn to improve,” and I’ve been thinking about it for days. When I saw it, I thought, “Yes, everything is exhausting, all of the systems are broken, can’t someone fix them?” 

I especially liked how the tweet was pushing against so many of the most harmful elements of the self-help and self-improvement world right now, including the false idea that we as individuals can rise above all of the dysfunction and mismanagement in the world if we really want to, by focusing on bettering ourselves. This is a major part of the work culture I am often pushing against here in the column and when I am coaching. The “rise and grind” worldview that encourages people to work nonstop to the detriment of their health and personal life, leading to burnout or worse, is really, really bad. 

I often field questions from clients who are looking for advice on how to handle bad managers, and right now, it feels like my whole world is being severely mismanaged. Like many others on the East Coast, I spent the last week inside my home, keenly aware of how the new COVID variant was ripping through my city. I canceled Christmas plans with my mother, helped her cancel her travel, then mailed new KN95 masks to her in Tennessee, where it seemed this outbreak hadn’t hit as hard yet. When darting around looking for the last remaining COVID tests in the city, I was also looking around at all of the other people leaving the public library empty-handed and worrying that they needed the test even more than I did. 

I’m back in a place where I don’t know what to do. I’ve also got a routine on how to mitigate risk, and I’m quite privileged. I’m holding in my mind both how frustrated I am with what’s happening right now and how grateful I am that things aren’t worse. And what Lazarus tweeted obviously struck a chord. Not just with me—it has been retweeted over 37,000 times. In a world where “personal responsibility” is often used to deflect from doing what needs to be done by the people who have the power to actually do it, having someone boldly remind us that all of the impacts of the pandemic are not our fault really matters.

In my professional capacity as someone who gives advice, I realized Sarah’s tweet would need a “Yes, and…” from me if I were to explore it in this column. 

What has hit me hard over the past week or so is that all of my clients have been dealing with so much change and instability. Yes, the circumstances need to improve. And also the circumstances have been changing so much. Change has been constant.

A time to ground yourself

We’ve all spent so much time responding and reacting, we feel like we have little control. Our own goals can get put on the back burner as we tend to everyone else’s concerns or the current emergency. Being responsive is a crucial skill in crisis situations, but as we move into the third year of the pandemic, it’s a good time to check in with yourself about what you want to get out of this next year. 

New Year’s resolutions, I can take or leave. I’m more of a person to set intentions throughout the year than one to make a big declaration on January 1. But I do think it’s grounding to have a sense of what’s important to you. Figuring out your “North Star”—the career goal that’s guiding you—is helpful so that you can anchor into what you’re working toward this year, even when life is chaotic. There’s no doubt that next year will bring more disruption. Keeping in mind what you’re working toward will give you a foundation as you plan for different scenarios, and an opportunity to approach them from a proactive, not reactive, place. 

As we acknowledge the limitations of what we can change, we must also reevaluate what we need during this time of massive change and reconsider what we need from work and what our colleagues need from us. This edition of Work Space looks forward to a new year, drawing on some of the lessons from the past year of navigating change and uncertainty to share advice that might be helpful to you as you’re taking a moment to reset and plan for your year—even though what that year might look like is hard to predict.

Use ‘tiny experiments’ to build toward bigger changes

When I’m looking to make a change, whether it’s at work or in my personal life, I often start by experimenting with something small. From my friend and collaborator, business and design strategist Tran Ha, I’ve adopted the use of “tiny experiments,” especially when I’m trying to tackle a complicated problem where it would be helpful to have some data about what’s working. 

“Tiny experiments are a way to try to introduce new ideas or create new behaviors, within a group that you might be working with, or yourself,” Tran told me. “They are small or tiny in scope, so that they make that change feel less overwhelming and intimidating.” 

By tackling one small piece, you’ll start to untangle some of the overlapping threads to get a better understanding of the dynamics at play. Tiny experiments can also make it easier to get buy-in at work, especially when you make things really small. As you show how your small experiments are working, you can build goodwill among your collaborators and use the small wins to show an appetite for new ways of working. 

“It is a really powerful way to think about navigating change, and developing leadership qualities and behaviors that make you more resilient in navigating change and uncertainty,” Tran told me. “Right now, everything is uncertain, and so many of our industries are being reshaped. It makes navigating all of this change and uncertainty a little bit less scary to have a few of these tools.” 

Build your own board of advisers

Having your own “personal board of directors,” or a group of people who can support you as you navigate the unexpected at work and in your career, is one of the best things that you can do to support yourself in the next year. Thinking about where you need advice and who you can turn to for support can help you identify gaps in your own skill set and the perspectives that will help you grow. 

Seek out mentors and peers who are interested and available in working with you, and tend to those relationships. Beth Pickens, a career consultant and author of Make Your Art No Matter What, spoke to me at length about the transformative power of working with a group of mentors. 

“I want people to ask for mentors and be a mentor. Wherever you are, you have something to contribute, and you get to ask too, no matter where you are in age or where you are in your career,” Beth told me. “Community is everything. I think no matter your sector, you really need community for all the different parts of your life, including your professional creative life.” 

Beth sees community as a real source of power for people who are working through new challenges, since there’s so much collective wisdom in groups. She also finds that mentors and peer groups often channel our own wisdom back to us when we need it: “We individually have the answers often, but we need somebody to reflect it back at us,” she said.

Identifying your trusted advisers and checking in with them throughout next year can help you stay accountable to your goals and navigate tricky situations when they come up. You might find a regular cadence with some of your mentors, or find that some of them are people you call upon only when you need them. During the pandemic, it’s been more important than ever to put energy into building the community you need, since you can’t depend on casual run-ins or professional networking to be sure that you see people who can help you workshop your challenges.  

Focus on collaboration

As I’ve started new collaborations this year and reset how I’ve worked with a few long-standing teams, I’ve repeatedly turned to the Toolkit for Cooperative, Collective & Collaborative Cultural Work, a collaborative effort from Press Press, a Baltimore-based collective deeply committed to building community and amplifying marginalized voices, and the Institute for Expanded Research, an artist project and research initiative founded by multidisciplinary artist Lu Zhang. 

The Toolkit synthesizes recommendations from a diverse group of people focused on collaborative work, “grounded in the values of equity, liberation, integrity, and difference.” It provides a treasure trove of ideas and best practices for working with people, recognizing the systems that we operate within and how they affect us. If you want to find new ways of showing up in your work, this will give you inspiration and tactical tips on how to set up fruitful collaborations. One powerful thing that the Toolkit provides guidance around is creating accountability in collaborative projects. 

“Establishing an accountability process from the start is important so folks have a system for addressing issues as they arise,” the Toolkit reads. “Being tender and understanding to your collaborators’ needs, conditions, and life experiences is essential to any meaningful accountability process.” 

Listen before you pitch

In times of confusion and crises—and we are in a protracted moment of confusion and crisis, no doubt—there are often opportunities to make positive change. Even if people know what is happening now is not enough, what needs to be done differently in the future is harder to see. Seize this moment to move people toward new ways of thinking. As you’re pitching new ideas, be mindful of who you’re talking to and how you can frame your ideas in a way they’ll be receptive to them. 

Jennifer Brandel, CEO and cofounder of Hearken, a technology and consulting company, and cofounder of Zebras Unite, a founder-led movement that reimagines funding and business structures for companies with social missions, shared a wealth of advice on how to strengthen your pitch. If you want to be successful, pitching the right things to the right people is only one part of the equation.

“You might think the most important thing about pitching is how well you speak and persuade people, but it’s actually how well you listen,” Jennifer told me. “Because if you are not starting by understanding what the problems are that they’re trying to solve, and if you don’t know where their energy and passion is and where their dissatisfaction is, you can’t effectively pitch.”

Rest and reset

The world is exhausting, and as we get ready to start the third year of a pandemic, people are tired. Make rest and time to reset a part of your routine in the new year. The Nap Ministry, founded by Tricia Hersey, explores the healing power of rest and advocates for us to shift our thinking away from the burdens of grind culture toward a life in which rest is valued. The project acknowledges the burden under capitalism for everyone to be productive and grind all the time, the disproportionate trauma inflicted on marginalized groups by the systems we live in, and the damage that this does to us. 

“Rest does not have to be earned,” Hersey wrote last week. On Twitter and Instagram, the Nap Ministry shares reminders and permission for you to take the time you need to rest, and the project speaks to the urgent need for us to reframe our thinking from rest being a luxury to its being a right. 

“There are no quick tips for deprogramming from grind culture and crafting a rest practice in a capitalist world. Maybe that’s part of the problem: We want ‘quick’ magic bullets all the time. You will be unraveling for a while. The time to rest is now. Any way you can,” Hersey wrote in an Instagram post earlier this year. 

Find your narrative

If you’ve been going through it, it’s a good time to anchor into what you can look forward to in the new year. If you’ve been enduring a tough workplace, and you’re counting down until you can leave, or you’ve been caretaking throughout the pandemic, and you’re feeling exhausted, now might be a good time to think about what you’d like to make space for in the new year. You’ve likely been in a responsive place, reacting to the environment you’re in and what other people need from you. Now is a good time to think about what you need and how you can move toward it. 

Earlier this year, I spoke with Kerri Twigg, a career coach and author of the bestselling book The Career Stories Method. She is a big advocate for having a “narrative” around your career and thinking about what the stories we tell about our career are, both to ourselves and other people in our lives. In times of transition and when we’re resetting after a tough experience, these stories can be especially powerful. 

If you think about your career like a story, and you’re the main character in it, what do you want this next chapter to hold for you? “Generally, when people are looking at transitioning out, it’s important to know what you’re transitioning to,” Kerri told me. “If you have a plan, whether that’s to take time off to explore or whether it’s a new job or starting a new business, having a light at the end of the tunnel and having a goal can get you through a rough month.” 


As we look forward to 2022 and we try our best to see what it can be for us, be gentle with yourself as you’re thinking about what this year will bring. You might not be in a headspace to make resolutions this year, but that doesn’t mean that you have to leave everything to circumstance. Thinking about what your North Star is this year—whether that’s taking time to recover after a tough year or finding a new job or getting a big project done at work—can give you something to guide you, even when things feel like they’re out of your control. 

A few years ago, a friend told me that she thinks about her career in seasons. When it’s her season, she can feel it, and she really steps into opportunities as they come to her. When it’s an off-season, she focuses on rest, recovery, and training for what’s next. She gives herself permission to pass on things she’s not ready for as she stays focused on her future goals. No matter what space you’re in as this year gets going, here’s hoping you can take the space you need for what you want for this year. 

Sending you lots of good vibes, 


Work Space is a monthly Q&A column tackling the work challenges that keep you up at night. You can read all columns here. If you want advice on something you’re navigating at work, send your questions to workspace@fortune.com.