Embracing uncertainty


Jagged rocks, Oceanside OR

Jagged rocks near Oceanside, OR

Uncertainty is that uneasy feeling you get when trying something new. That feeling may be unpleasant but I would argue that you're better off embracing it than avoiding it. Running away from uncertain feelings actually causes a lot of problems in life: procrastination, bad habits, and close-mindedness to name a few. It keeps us doing the same things we've done our entire lives. It keeps us from doing what we were meant to do. 

Closing of the mind

Being certain is a way of being safe. If we keep our world small, we don't have to feel that uncomfortable feeling of not knowing. But by being certain, we pay a high price. We miss out on the wonderful things in life that we're too afraid to seek out. We can't really create anything new if we're constantly thinking about how things might go wrong. In fact, we might just quit or not even try at all. Designer Milton Glaser was known for avoiding certainty as a way of being more creative in his work: 

Certainty is a closing of the mind. To create something new you must have doubt. 

Feeling discomfort

Even though uncertainty feels uncomfortable, embracing that feeling can actually help us relax. Instead of worrying about things we don't have control over, we can decide to feel the fear and deal with what happens next. It's true that embracing fear in primitive times may have gotten us killed, but the worst that might happen today is some mild embarrassment. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron actually encourages us to relax in our insecurity in When Things Fall Apart:

If you give up hope that insecurity and pain can be eliminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. 

Learning something new

When we feel uncertain, it means that we're doing something different or something we've never tried before. The process of moving from the old comfortable idea to the new exciting one is where the real growth is. Derek Sivers has a great metaphor for the uncertainty you feel when learning something new in How to Live

When you’re really learning, you’ll feel stupid and vulnerable—like a hermit crab between shells.


Finding meaning

People often wish they had more meaning in their lives but to find meaning, we need to be vulnerable and open to new experiences. We need uncertainty in order to be curious and creative. So many things we desire come out of uncertainty: creating art, new relationships, making important life changes. Without uncertainty, life would be dull indeed. The book Antidote quotes psychologist Erich Fromm about the good things that come from uncertainty:  

The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning... Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities for success, for happiness, for really living are waiting.