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The Cold, Hard Truth About Certainty

How to keep going when you don’t know for sure where you’re going.

Have you ever spent hours researching something before making a decision, only to find that, by the end of your research, you are no closer to confidence than you were when you started — or worse, the window of opportunity has passed, and you made your decision…by not making one?

People often put life on hold, waiting for certainty. Or they let go of opportunities, because they just aren’t certain it will work out. But if you do this, you’re forgetting one thing:

You’ll never have certainty.

About anything in your life.

This is something I’ve wrestled with, painfully, and I keep coming back to the unavoidable conclusion that certainty is impossible:

You cannot be certain that you will live to see the next sunrise. You cannot be certain that your loved ones will be okay. You cannot be certain that the job, school, spouse, or worldview you chose will “work out” (whatever that means).

You may think you are certain, but you never truly are.

On Faith

Whether you believe in God, Buddha, or evolution…whether you think you will succeed or fail…whether you accept or reject whatever your parents teach you…Everything you do is done on faith, which in some ways is a synonym for choice.

Everything — everything — we do is done on faith.

You can choose to believe, do, and say whatever you want.

But you can never be 100% certain that you chose well — at least, not in this life.

Letting go of the illusion of certainty

We humans like predicting the future. Or at least, trying to.

Just look at how many people watch the weather channel, study probability in math class, and listen to psychics. But none of these methods provide absolute certainty, and so we keep watching, keep studying, keep staring into crystal balls.

We forget that certainty is a double-edged sword: We think it will bring us security, but forget it can also bring pain and ennui.

It is scary to live in a world where literally anything can happen, good or bad. Some people would rather settle for a less-than-ideal existence than risk uncertainty.

And I have to confess that I am often one of those people.

Perhaps you are too. And no matter how much you may wish it weren’t so, you cannot change the fact that nothing in life is certain.

The benefit of UNcertainty

So how are you supposed to deal with all this uncertainty? Cry, curl into the fetal position, and wait for death, because that’s the only thing you’re (pretty) certain of?

I’ve tried that, sort of.

It’s not very helpful.

It’s better to think about the whole thing in a different light, and realize:

Certainty is not necessarily a good thing.

If you are certain that you will fall ill in exactly 60 days, no matter what, you might spend the 59 days leading up to the 60th in fear and worry, extending your suffering longer than necessary.

If you are certain that your business will succeed no matter what, you may not try as hard, losing the opportunity to develop tenacity, diligence, and optimism.

Therefore, as you can never be certain whether something good or bad will happen, or whether you will succeed or fail, there’s no reason for you not to try.

You cannot be certain that you will die — so why not live?

You cannot be certain that the business/relationship/risk will NOT work out — so why not give it a chance?

You cannot be certain that you will lose — so why not risk it?

Uncertainty allows you to experience surprise, develop persistence, embrace hope, and feel more satisfaction than certainty could ever provide.

Uncertainty may be a frightening friend, but in the end, it is still a friend.

A difficult but bearable truth

I’m not going to end with a spiel about tossing your daily planner, throwing caution to the winds, and embracing uncertainty with open arms.

Because that kind of saccharine positivity does not address how excruciating it can be for some of us to let go of the illusory security blanket of certainty.

Instead, I will simply say: if you ever feel frightened or depressed at the prospect of an uncertain future, remind yourself of all the ways uncertainty is (or can be) a GOOD thing.

Like it or not, uncertainty is a fact of life. Instead of receiving it reluctantly, let’s try to accept it with composure…and one day, maybe joy.

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Sarah Cy

Sarah Cy

(aka The Scylighter). Writer, musician, reader, daughter. Join our Merry Band, become a Brilliant Writer, and dazzle your readers!