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Nobody Knows

Living With Uncertainty


There’s a drumbeat of foreboding beating a relentless rhythm throughout the world these days: Tentacles of grief, depression and disorientation trigged by illness, loss, isolation, financial uncertainty, complicated work conditions and additional family commitments are affecting us all. There’s no end in sight.

Uncertainty is both fascinating and profoundly uncomfortable. In actuality our lives have always been, and will continue to be, uncertain. We have no way of ever knowing what the future holds either personally or globally. As the first generations to spend our entire lives living under the threat of nuclear annihilation one might think we would have a pretty good grasp of this concept but we prefer not to dwell on it too much when life seems calm.

In reality, of course, we know that our certainties can become uncertain in a heart beat: A devastating diagnosis, discovering an infidelity; losing a job; a global pandemic and so on. The list is alarming and lengthy.

The result is that we do everything we can to placate and eradicate uncertainty. We have life plans, financial plans, business plans, end of life plans; we have agendas, goals, weather alerts, economic projections. Some of us even build bunkers, all in an effort to protect ourselves from uncertainty.

In truth these are feel-good, sleep better at night, panaceas that have very little basis in reality. As we spin, together, on our tiny planet through the vastness of the universe, what the pandemic is showing us is that our planning is illusory and our relationship with uncertainty could do with an update if we are to navigate these days well.

So how to live with constant uncertainty without feeling as if you’re losing your mind? Imagine finding yourself in a strange corridor and the door has locked behind you. Your initial instinct is to try to go back and when that doesn’t work, look for another way out. In fact you have three choices: Try to pick the unbreakable lock; waste precious time and energy trying to find the illusive escape hatch or make the corridor as comfortable and productive as possible.

Redefining our relationship with uncertainty then is going to involve accepting our time in the corridor. Things will be what they are, no matter what. We will never know for certain what will happen next, no matter what.

The most challenging aspect of acceptance is that these truths outrage our agitated and resistant minds which try to fool us into thinking that if we’re not agitating and planning we’re doomed.

Paradoxically, however, the reverse is true: By this deceptively simple act of letting go the need to know we relieve unwanted stress. With all the additional energy this creates, we can be free to focus in on being the very best versions of ourselves we can be, one carefully placed step at a time, whatever happens. This will substantially improve the quality of our daily lives, and the lives of those around us, particularly when we remind ourselves of another powerful truth, nothing ever remains the same and this too will pass.