Making friends with uncertainty
The other day I had a strange sense of everything changing. My work was changing. My interests and passions were changing. My priorities were changing. I felt like I was walking through quicksand and struggling to get a firm foothold on my sudden stasis.
This brought about an anxiety within me. I felt as though the things that last year I had held dear were now running through my fingers like water. I had a huge desire for certainty and a need to control. This manifested itself in eating for comfort, workaholism for want of a constant, and a sudden and overwhelming urge to make pairs out of all the unpaired socks that lay forgotten at the bottom of the washing basket.
Why is it that we are always wanting answers? Coping with the rollercoaster of life can be one of the most challenging aspects of being human. Be honest. Have you ever looked back and considered whether you have designed what has happened in your life so far or has it been more a case of you having had very little control over what’s gone on?
Uncertainty is an uncomfortable bedfellow but it is in fact a lifelong one. You don’t have any control over when you’re born or when you die and in fact you have very little control over the bit that happens in the middle. Ultimately rather than indulge the inner control freak, it’s better to step back from the helm, take a back seat and let the fates sort it out. That sounds all well and good but it’s not easy.
I love the feeling of knowing my plans and being able to pencil things into the future to look forward to. There is comfort in knowing exactly how much money I’m getting every month and what is happening when. It provides me with a feeling of stability and groundedness. If my life has been planned out to every millimetre of my i-calendar, I can relax, eat crisps and watch box sets without having panic-stricken desire to fill in any spreadsheets at 2am in the morning.
That said, I also like the spontaneity of planning a trip last minute; going to a party when I was expecting to watch casualty or having a sudden and unplanned afternoon in the pub. I don’t know how I will feel this Saturday and whether I will feel like I want to rush around the shops or whether I will feel like plonking myself in front of the telly with a Haagen Daas. If I strategise and plan my weeks and weekends with the military precision of a marine commander, I do not live my life according to what my body is telling me it wants to do. I don’t listen to myself moment to moment. I ignore my intuition about what is best for me at any point in time.
Let’s be honest, taking the windy route is more fun than driving in a straight line. That our life is linear is merely a perception rather than an experience. Life always throws something at us when we are getting used to the linear existence (possibly to remind us that it’s a curvy path). Out of nowhere comes the child who falls ill and scuppers the weekend’s socialising; the sudden redundancy or the revelation of an extra-marital affair.
The curve ball is not always negative however. Quite the opposite in fact. We might walk into a bar and be struck by cupid’s arrow such that the unexpected coup de foudre then changes the course of our carefully mapped-out life trajectory for the better.
Is it our anxiety or fear of negative things happening that gives uncertainty a bad name? Do we feel we have to second-guess the fates before they deliver us one mighty curve ball that bowls us over? Or are we happily surfing life’s benevolent flow, safe in the knowledge that we can deal with the wave that knocks us into the sea but that we are also quite open to surfing the one that takes us into the shore? Is our anxiety about what will happen in the future born out of our craving for bad news (just look at the media headlines) such that we want a shocker of a headline in our own life to ramp up the drama in the otherwise barren landscape of tedious work demands and humdrum everyday monotony?
There can be uncertainty about the future which creates a general low level anxiety: worrying about job security or health albeit there is no imminent threat to either. There can also be uncertainty about an unresolved state of affairs: what is going to happen to our jobs once the new company takes over the business/come Brexit/after mass automation? What we often don’t see is the twist in the road might bring about a better state of affairs. For example, a relationship split might be the scariest most uncertain state of affairs in the world as the mind spins out the following questions: ‘where am I going to live?’, ’how will I cope on my own?’ and ‘what if I never get over this?’ The reality is that most people survive and move on after break-ups and quite often with better consequences: a new start can bring its own new adventures and people. No-one has a crystal ball but our minds convince us with our anxieties that we are the only soothsayers (albeit the ones with the darkest views of the future: we would never get any work if we were real fortune tellers).
The best way to cope with uncertainty is to live in the present and not to worry too much about what is around the corner, as that you cannot and never will know. Have contingency plans by all means but have the flexibility and openness to change them if something interesting but unexpected comes along or if you feel excited about something. Too strong a desire or attachment to an outcome can make us too future-focused so that we struggle to keep an open mind and miss or overlook opportunities or helpful events that are happening around us in the present.
In the immortal words of John Lennon ‘life happens when you’re making plans.’ The danger with determination that comes from the ego is that we rest everything on a future outcome and our world comes crashing down around us if we don’t achieve it. We listen to what is going on in our heads and not in our bodies. How can we even know that that is the best thing for us and that there is not something better and different that might come along? Our goals should not be certainties in themselves but should be markers that map out a general direction of travel towards other similar opportunities.
If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, then all future uncertainties must be blessings that have yet to be unwrapped.
Copyright Ally Frazer 2019