Fulfilled living requires us to learn to live with uncertainty. This idea has preoccupied me for the last several months. And while I still struggle to grasp its full meaning, my life has been giving me enough opportunities lately to do so.
We start our lives with a crucial need for certainty. As infants we need attachment to a mother figure to know that we are safe. As kids, we need to know, and to be constantly reassured that we are loved. As teenagers we need to belong to a social circle. Circumstances in which we lack any of this certainties produce adults with low self-esteem, unsure of their self-worth, and as a result – suspicious, distant and aggressive.
But most parents do a pretty good jobs in creating certainties for their kids. Those of us, fortunate to have such parents reach adulthood in a carefree environment. We might discover in school what we want to study in college, in college find our future spouse, and land our first couple of jobs without much effort. And so it happens that we might go through college, have a confident career beginning and even merry without leaving the certainty trope. But sooner or later life’s entanglement catches on us, and we encounter a new reality. A reality of uncertainty.
Uncertainty means not having a clear picture of the future, or rather, having several co-existing side by side in our mind. Do I stay or leave my partner? Is this job for me?
Our parents taught us well to create certainties – they taught us the value of getting a good education, the importance of finding a lucrative job, a loyal spouse. They taught us how to be safe and prosperous. So it shouldn’t be surprising that once we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty – be it getting fired or having a relationship crisis, our natural inclination is to create a new one as quickly as possible. Dissolution of one certainty calls for the creation of new one. Lost your job? Quickly find a new one. After four dates you still aren’t sure if “this is it”? Cut it, and start looking again.
Peaceful, easy life requires us to find certainties. But fulfilled life can only come through learning to contain possibilities. How can you find your calling, without accepting the uncertainty that you don’t know what it is? How can you be sure whether your new partner is right for you, without bearing both possibilities for some time?
This openness and tolerance to uncertainty shouldn’t be mistaken for indecision. It’s not a passive waiting in which we let time or other people to decide for us, while we sit on the fence. It’s an act of active exploration in which we allow our intuition a time to ripe. Instead of being preoccupied with “making a decision” and getting lost trying to fit reality into familiar models, we open our eyes and hearts and let ourselves see and feel, while things grow and mature.
Every time we are approached with an offer – a new opportunity or a new relationship, we feel the pressure to either accept of reject it. But often we don’t have enough information to make up our mind in that point of time. So does it mean that we should reject the opportunities that come our way, because we are not sure that they are good for us? These kind of situations call for exploring without committing. A friend offers to join his start-up? Why not start by working together for a month, and see how it goes? Job opening seems interesting but not exactly what you look for? Why not apply, and try to learn more about it?
Of course not all cross-roads allow exploration before decision, and sometimes we don’t have a choice but to choose. But learning to live with possibilities, surviving the waves of uncertainty and learning to ride them is an essential skill in our uncertain but exciting times.