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Accepting Uncertainty: We Can Be Happy Without All the Answers

Looking Up

“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” ~Tony Robbins

I’ve recently begun to feel as though I am at a crossroads in my career and, as a result, have been feeling very uncomfortable.

I love what I do, working with clients and mentoring new therapists; however, I’m also a mom to two little ones and am feeling the ache of the impermanence of their childhood. This has left me wanting to spend more time at home with them and, therefore, possibly working less.

If you would have asked me when I was twenty-five years old, I knew with absolute certainty that I would never want to be a stay-at-home mom.

In fact, most of my life has been colored by a laser-sharp determination and an absolute knowing of what my next step was going to be. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and a lot of a control freak!

Today, I’m sitting in a much different place; today, I’m sitting in uncertainty. I don’t know what the next step will be for me.

There are so many unknowns at this point: do I want to work or do I want to stay home, what other options do I have, where can my practice grow from here, where can I grow from here, and so on. My automatic response to this uncertainty is to obsess endlessly until I figure it out.

However, what I’ve come to realize is that all of my ideas of “knowing” actually block me from the truth more than they reveal it.

Uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable and so we try and escape it any way that we can.

We convince ourselves that we are fortune tellers and can therefore see the future. We make ourselves crazy, spinning our minds through the same handful of scenarios we come up with, over and over again, never feeling any closer to some sort of resolution.

However, it seems a great paradox of life that it is actually through embracing the uncertainty that we thrive. Our lives are greatly determined by what we do when we get uncertain.

Without uncertainty, we might never grow because we would never be pushed beyond our comfort zones.

Many of us have experienced staying in a soul-sucking job or an unhealthy relationship because the uncertainty of leaving those situations created more anxiety than the certainty of staying in those unhappy situations.

Many people do not end up following their true passions because it is seemingly impractical, or because there is a large degree of perceived uncertainty associated with following that path.

There are no guarantees when we step into the unknown. But it is in these periods of discomfort that life’s most important adventures can arise.

Making peace with uncertainty requires courage, faith, and trust that you will in fact be taken care of, that no matter what happens, you’ll find a way through it, that you don’t have to have all of the answers today.

Contrary to popular ideas, not knowing exactly what will happen next in our lives is okay. In fact, it is actually liberating.

The ability to let go, not know, and not try to totally control what will happen next is a necessary skill for living happy, joyous, and free.

Most spiritual practices ask us to consider the possibility that there is a power greater than ourselves at work and, therefore, it is okay to let go of the reigns sometimes.

I have found it easier to let go in many circumstances when I’m able to recognize that I’m not the only force at play, that there are circumstances far beyond my control that are impacting life and what the future holds.

If we fixate on “solving” problems, we tend to get tunnel-visioned and we walk around with blinders on, failing to see the possibilities.

We can’t embrace a new uncertain future when we are fully attached to our old lives or an idea of how we think something should be.  

I have found that when I am in that anxious, fearful state, where I’m trying figure it all out on my own, that noise in my head that is trying to control everything will often drown out my intuition.

When we accept that things are unknown, that we don’t have all of the answers, we can see that teachings are always available if we are paying attention. When we trust, let go, and embrace the uncertainty, that noise in our own minds subsides.

Ironically, the quietness created by letting go of the need to know then allows contact with our own intuition, and we actually get clearer direction from within our own hearts and we can feel more certain about this direction.   

I’ve heard it said that the furthest distance in the universe is from the head to the heart, but it is in stillness that we find this path. It is in the quiet space that we can get out of our heads and connect more deeply with ourselves, thereby allowing ourselves to be open to the possibilities when they arrive.

I have found meditation to be an incredibly useful tool to facilitate this connection. Carving out time in my day specifically for getting quiet and getting still has allowed me to find some peace with the fact that, for today, I don’t have all the answers of what’s going to happen next.

I’m able to set mindful intentions for myself to remain present and aware throughout my day, within the context that I am proceeding onto a new path in my life. With fearful dialogue in my head quieted, this skill is enhanced and I am open to new possibilities.

I will continue learning to listen to my heart, which let’s me know that I am okay even though I don’t have all of the answers.

And you are too.

Photo by Kathleen Zarubin

Avatar of Jennifer Chrisman

About Jennifer Chrisman

Jennifer Chrisman is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Los Angeles, where she specializes in using Mindfulness based approaches to help her clients find more meaning in their life.  To learn more, you can check out her website here, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • venusbu03

    This is a beautiful piece, with wonderful wisdom and insight. I’m sure I will be rereading it many times over.

  • bongani sibeko

    As humans we were not created all knowing and that is not what we should strive for. The knowledge that we supposedly have regarding our future and all that is really limiting us in terms of what to do and where to go, yes knowing where to go is great but that can constrain us and close all the possibilities that are outside our knowledge.
    Accepting and operating under the conditions of uncertainty releases us to all the possibilities and demands that we stretch ourselves to every imagination and thought that enters our minds. This is when we operate in absolute faith being championed by our inner selves connected to our higher beings. Stepping out of our well known paths to the unknown frontiers is what grows and liberates us as humans.

    A great piece Jennifer!

  • Jamie Bergeron

    Thank you so much for this piece, exactly what I needed this morning.

  • Anders Hasselstrøm

    Well written Jennifer,

    Best,
    Anders

  • Louise Watson

    Great post Jennifer! Thank you so much for this – I’ve been feeling a bit stressed recently over the uncertainty of my life. I left my job at the end of August and there seems to be no clear answers coming over what my next step should be, which has been doing my head in. This has reminded me that I need to chill out and take life as it comes. Thanks again!

  • Talya Price

    I think meditation is the best way to start your day. I start my day with meditation, it helps me deal with the anxiety of uncertainty. The future is unwritten. That is life. But we all have to face our fears and meditation grounds you as a person. This was a very good read.

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Hi Talya~

    Thanks for your comment. I too, start everyday with meditation. :)

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Thanks, Louise. I’m so glad that you found this post helpful.

    ~Jenn

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Thanks, Anders

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Thank you, Jamie. I’m glad you found it helpful :)

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Very well said. Thank you for your comment :)

  • Jenn Chrisman

    thank you for your kind words.

  • Violeta

    Thank you infinitely for this. I needed it so much in this moment of my life.

    May the Divinity bless you.
    Violeta

  • Laren Umphlett

    Great article.
    I wrote an entire book about this subject called “The Power of Perception”.

  • Lisa Gardner

    Thank you!!! This article sums up the main conflict and cause of stress in my life — needing to know vs. letting go. I have courage and faith, but it’s so hard to trust that I’ll be taken care of when the only thing that’s ever taken care of me in my life is me, when I have all the facts and make informed decisions. Those decisions are sometimes wrong, and my gut instincts are always right, but it’s so uncomfortable to surrender to that when one is already bruised and hurting and fears more pain. Thanks for the timely reminder!!

  • Nina T

    One of the more poignant posts I’ve read in awhile. This spoke to my heart today. Thank you!

  • Julia

    “Our lives are greatly determined by what we do when we get uncertain.” Thank you!! This comes at the right time, what a wonderful article!

  • Tammy

    I am currently drowning in uncertainty. I too, have always been a planner. I’ve recently separated from my partner of 27 years, and was then laid off from my job and the employment horizon is very grim. I’m on the verge of losing my home and meditation has never worked for me I’m afraid, I’ve tried for years. I am at a complete and total loss on how to proceed, to let go. Thanks for this, at least I don’t feel alone in it.

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Hi Lisa~

    Thank you so much for your honesty in your comment. I also identify with surrendering because I, too, have had to do all of my own care-taking. I’ve found that surrendering is a process that doesn’t happen overnight; I dabble with letting go, and get scared and quickly grab back on, then let go a little bit. I think the most important thing is that we just have compassion for ourselves through the process.

    thanks again for your comment!

    ~Jenn

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Hi Tammy~

    I’m sorry to hear about painful your situation seems right; I can’t imagine being bombarded with so many losses and transitions at one time. I know meditation seems like something that doesn’t work for you, but maybe you can just imagine carving out 5 min a day to sit quietly with the intention of inviting compassion towards yourself during this time in your life? You deserve that :)

    ~Jenn

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Thanks, Julia!

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Thank you, Nina. I really appreciate your kind words.

  • Adriana

    Thank you Jennifer! I needed to hear that! I found myself overwhelm and worried not knowing were my present relationship is going, I have been dating a wonderful, sweet man for the past six years, I live in South Texas and he lives in Seattle and for the past six years we have maintain a great long distance relationship but I just feel that it is not going anywhere, I have this perpetual need to know were, how and when are we going to be together, I know I should live in the moment but I’m just very anxious to know if there is a future ahead of us….I know I need to let it go and if happens that will be great…meditation, yes I need that.

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Perception is definitely very powerful!!

  • Jenn Chrisman

    I’m glad it helped you today; it’s amazing how we’re always given exactly what we need when we need it!

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Hi Adriana~ Thank you for taking the time to comment and share so openly! 6 years is a long time to spend in a long distance relationship, I don’t blame you for wanting to feel some security about the future of it. Meditation may be a useful tool to help you get clear about how YOU want to proceed!

  • http://www.lifewhack.com/ Peter Ewin Hall

    Really thoughtful post. Sometimes we want to be logical and rational and make a clear and perfect decision. Reality says we have to take a risk and do something based on incomplete knowledge. The best we can do is to be true to ourselves and that only makes snse by really knowing who we are. All tough things to do but all part of getting older and wiser.

  • Sarah Woolley

    Jennifer, I would benefit from being reminded of this daily! I really could read your wonderful post here, everyday … and I probably won’t because I am human! After 66 years on the planet I find that living life mindfully … or as some say … being here now … is a great relief and very helpful! Following my heart and not over intellectualizing things works very well. Thank you for your post and for sharing your experience … It has great value to me! I am currently working on manifesting retirement … I have plans to travel to see family and friends and to spread lots of love and peace! You rock!

  • Tammy

    Thanks Jenn :)

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Sarah, you’re comment put such a smile on my face. Thank you!

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Couldn’t agree more, Peter!

  • TyPrice

    Haha, Tony exposes his bad philosophy…It’s easy to understand if you read the right books. Understanding and integrating knowledge is unlimited. You can understand!

  • marley

    I love all these articles but it seems that I spend all my time trying to make my life better by reading and following all these tips and articles. I am exhausted with trying to eat healthy, exercise and correct everything that is wrong with me and our society. People don’t really care anymore because there is so much information and they just don’t know where to turn anymore. This morning I thought we are so focused on what is wrong with our food, our water, our lives …. how did we get here to this point of such bad living, bad thinking, bad experiences that we have to overcome so much… I am so tired of everyone’s opinion that I understand why people go and live in the woods away from it all. Money is the most important thing everyone has to have it and if you don’t make enough you aren’t enough and if you don’t like to buy stuff and fill your life with it something must be wrong with you. I am so sorry I have children that I brought into this world of greed and no one caring about each other just about money. I am sick to death that my kids have the option of eating food that is so bad for human consumption and that rarely you hear something good in the news. I don’t watch it. It is driving us all mad and crazy… would like to read more stuff about what is going right now always how to overcome all the things that are going wrong. because now a days it is everything.

  • mbraining

    Yes,
    you’re so right, the ability to deal with and accept
    uncertainty, and even better yet, to use it constructively, is so very
    important. In NLP we have an expression we use to describe a powerful
    way of looking at the world. It’s called ‘seeing the world through the wide eyed curiosity of a child’. If you are interested, I’ve written about it here and it’s links to how we can use the ‘brains’ in our heart and gut to embrace and be comfortable with uncertainty: http://enhancingmylife.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/beginners-mind-doing-not-knowing.html

  • Ella

    Oh I appreciate so much your comment Adriana (and definitely your post here, Jenn!!) as I’m also struggling with a similar situation. I am currently trying to make a change to move in with my boyfriend after 3 years of ldr, I definitely feel that I have to do this, it’s just that I’m experiencing severe anxiety related to how to do it – he’s older than me, he moved out to a foreign country many years ago and does not want to move back here again where I have all my family and all (which is quite an important aspect for me). I have experienced great anxiety during this ldr, related to all the desire to be with him, our visits, all the things I’ve gave up on because of this chaotic lifestyle (such as friends, projects) so right now when technically the timing asks for change ( I have to move out on my own from my parents house and start my career, and he’s currently looking for new professional beginnings) I just have this great change anxiety because it feels overwhelming and so different than I would’ve had in mind, it just stirs up soooo many emotions and issues and wounds that sometimes I just freeze and freak out, would only wish we could be more of in the same spot and be more harmonious.
    I clearly get very scared of over analyzing this change and fearing what if I’m rushing things and gonna do a very bad thing because of this (as a result of my anxiety after the ldr period of wanting so badly to be with him) or whether I’m actually resisting a great opportunity to change and to bring us both together. How would you girls deal with this??? Would love to have your precious insights here…

  • http://www.pinchmeliving.com/ Bernadette @ PinchMeLiving.com

    Beautiful. A message close to my heart. Uncertainty is the breeding ground of all great possibility! Thanks for sharing. B :)

  • http://www.motivationmy.com/ Syafique

    Thank you! Most of us are going through the same dilemma too. It’s good to think, make a decision and let the universe (or God) take care the rest of your journey….

  • CaseyH

    Absolutely beautiful! This article is exactly what I needed this morning while lying in bed all night awake trying to figure out the uncertainty and reason for “loss” this past year, unexpected death of a parent and a failed relationship. I woke up read Tiny-buddha and feel happy and rejuvenated.

  • nads

    Great article – That’s an eye opening post for me! Thank you.

  • DJ

    A lifetime of being a control freak to letting go? Haha, sounds like someone dropped acid for their first time. Props on a good read!

  • Jenn Chrisman

    Trust me, DJ, it definitely did not happen overnight!! I’m certainly a work in progress ;-)

  • fred

    Thanks….very useful post you have here

  • pep

    This is an incredible piece full of wisdom at every turn. Thank you so much.

  • Liz Roberts

    Thank you for the great article Jenn. It always amazes me that the lessons held within the articles I have chosen to read are so well-timed. Letting go & trusting in my own heart is certainly a work in progress, but one that continues to show its generous rewards. Making time for meditation to be still, quiet… to just be in the moment is greatly helping the process along of getting out of my mind (over thinking/analyzing) and getting back in tune with what resonates with my heart. I’m embracing the process. Love & light for 2014, Liz

  • dawn

    This post is amazing! One of my newfound struggles in life, but even with only a few weeks of practice under my belt, I’ve seen and felt the energy that moves me and life when I’m not trying to wrestle it or understand it. I’ve seen many other cultures around the world that take things as they are. They don’t ask why, they don’t try to anticipate what’s coming, they don’t try to change what comes. There’s a peaceful wisdom that comes. Letting go of control is a wonderful thing. Difficult to do at first, but what a gift to have. Thank you for sharing! <3

  • dawn

    Hi Marley,

    Just wanted to share my support for your looking for the good. Human brains have a natural negativity bias, which can cause us to look for what’s wrong rather than appreciate what’s right. It helps keep us alive and on alert for danger, but it can be undone through training and focusing on the good. Of course most media outlets know human behavior and our tendency to be entertained/engaged with all the ills of the world.

    Tiny Buddha is such a nice beacon in the fog of 21st century living. This article points out what I think is one of the key philosophies for living well… letting go and allowing the good to come. :)

  • Rebecca

    I found myself going “yes, yes, totally agree, yes!!!” while reading through this article. But then I got to the end and thought “Um, okay, but how do I do this?”

    I recently started applying for new positions/promotions at my current job. I have felt anxious and depressed about being “stuck” in a role I’m unhappy with. It took a lot of time and courage for me to first admit I needed a change and to then start trying to make it happen for myself. I’ve been doing okay with the rounds of interviews, waiting, and rejection I’ve been going through … until this weekend. I interviewed for a position last week that I really want, for various reasons. I honestly believe I am the most qualified, would do a great job, and would be a lot happier in the new role. Suddenly I find myself in a cycle of excitement followed by agony of the rejection I become certain I will have this up coming week when they make their pick. And I can’t seem to get myself off this rollercoaster.

    So … Tips? I keep telling myself to just put it out of my mind, like I have with the other positions, focus on today and don’t try to play fortune teller. But it isn’t working. I am falling into a bad hole of anxiety and depression and not wanting to even get out of bed. What are some actions I can take? What can I do to turn my brain off, or at least get it to stop obsessing? Because now on top of the anxiety I’m just getting angry with myself too.

  • Mishk

    The more you get obsessed about getting all the answers, the more you lose sight of things and you stop living.
    Life will always be filled with uncertainty. Accepting that reality and accepting that we can not control some circumstances and other people, will help you to start finding happiness.

  • http://www.meevolving.com/ Manish

    Uncertainty is one of the paths to Zen – living totally in the now and not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. Too much of certainty in life dulls the mind and one becomes too sure and secure (just like a dead person).

  • Shan

    Wow! I’m blown away. This was so on time for me and what I am going through in life. I “stumbled” upon this post in what would seem to be a mere coincidence but I am confident in saying that it was not. A higher power led me to this and I am so grateful! Thank you:)