On making peace with uncertainty
I believe we’re designed, perhaps by evolution or perhaps by providence (depending on your point of view) to prefer stability. Not too much stability, since that would make most of us feel bored to death but just enough stability, just enough to have a little bit of room for a small measure of serendipity, ambiguity & ‘the unknown’, but not too much of any of these things.
I guess that’s why we like to pick up new hobbies, or like to travel to a new place, go on dates with new people etc. However, as soon that element of uncertainty, with which we all have a ‘can’t do with-can’t do without’ sort of relationship , goes beyond a certain threshold it completely rattles us.
Uncertainty, especially in any realm of life considered ‘serious’ like career, long term relationships etc suddenly becomes something intolerable & gradually spills over to all other aspects of life.
As I write this, I too am faced with uncertainty on many fronts pertaining to the ‘serious’ aspects of my life & yes, it does feel unsettling. So this article came about from my own quest to make peace with this.
I guess the only long term, sustainable sort of answer that I’ve been able to arrive at is that we can maybe fix this uncertainty over the long term by either: (i) taking the ‘serious’ aspects of our lives more lightly (or less seriously) or (ii) by accepting that expecting stability in the serious bits of our life is a delusion that will only end up hurting more in the long term. For both paths, of course, things are much easier said than done.
Assuming we choose to deal with the ambiguity by taking things less seriously (path 1). In my experience, the right way to go about it is to zoom out & get a sense of perspective. I reckon everybody feels this way, but every single time I’ve looked back into my life & wondered about the things that were ‘serious’ at a certain stage of life & were make-or-break sort of matters back then, I’ve always felt (retrospectively of course!) how stupid I was to to be excessively bothered about so trivial a matter. Whatever was the colossal, monumental issue that our 18 year old selves dealt with now feels like something we can look back & laugh at. It seems so easy a matter to deal with. That heuristic has pretty much held true every single time I’ve looked back at anything that I’ve dealt with in the past. So by extension, whatever it is that we have on our hands right now, our T+5 year old self will probably shrug it off & maybe even laugh at it. Perhaps if we’re mindful enough, every time we go down that path of feeling that the matters at present are too heavy to deal with, just getting a bit of that perspective & looking at things this way may help lighten things up & allow us to deal with them.
Path 2 I’ve found is a lot more difficult to truly integrate into one’s world view, maybe since we’re not designed to be this way & perhaps we need a certain degree of consciousness/effort/training to override our natural wiring. This entails internalising that lack of stability & arbitrariness are simply the way things are & that getting worked up about the future is futile since a lot of things are either outside our volition or even those within our volition may be things that your T + 1 year old self may not want to pursue or may loose interest in. The external environment changes & so do we (over time).
This being the case, unless we strictly regulate the external environment (very hard) or don’t at all change as an individual over time (again super unlikely), things will remain uncertain. This is the nature of things. Since this is the nature of things, I guess that by projecting things like our present dreams, current ambitions etc into the future, we create expectations that are by default going to be hard to achieve (since nothing is constant). All that leads to is pain & disappointment. The solution is perhaps to be completely unattached to outcomes & focus entirely on the process of building , learning or doing whatever it is we want to do right now. That way, I’ve found that we’re not be under pressure to live up to what our present expectations of the future are & uncertainty becomes a lot more palatable.