“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” ~Eckhart Tolle
A woman in a relationship that is breaking her spirit might remain there for fear of what leaving will bring.
She doesn’t know if she will find another to care for her, and having a warm body is better than having no one. The uncertainty about whether or not she will survive that decision, and be happier for it, keeps her there.
I know the harsh clutches of uncertainty all too well. It wasn’t long ago that I waffled and wavered about every decision I faced, feeling afraid to make one for fear that some mistakes cannot be undone.
I resisted relationships because loving led to marriage and then divorce. I resisted starting my business because seven out of every ten businesses fail. I refused to quit the job because it was the only way I thought I could succeed.
I allowed myself to fall in love only when I was certain that he loved me more and would stay. To ensure that it worked, I planned every detail of the relationship and the wedding.
Feeling doubtful that this relationship was truly the one I wanted, I was unhappy and silently praying for something to happen to help me out. But I stayed the course because at least I knew what would happen next; I had it all planned.
My awakening came when my engagement fell apart and there was nothing that I could do about it. I broke into a million pieces. I lost twenty pounds in one week and wept until there were no more tears.
I had placed a certain level of trust in things working out and was certain that it would. The experience left me paralyzed because “I had it all planned.” What was I supposed to do then?
I woke up daily gasping for air, knowing I’d go to work where I’d help people and come home to a crumbled life. It was then I knew that if I didn’t move I would die.
I fought against the emotional pain of the break-up and decided that I would have no more of it. I quit my two jobs, went home, and began packing my bags.
Two months later I sold my belongings, counted out the little savings I had stashed away for a safety net, and moved back to Jamaica to be with my family.
I had no fear about what would happen; I had been so fearful for so long and life happened anyway. All I knew was that I needed to have a hand in my own life, to be an intentional co-creator of my reality, to accept uncertainty as a friend.
So how do you move forward in uncertainty?
1. Accept that at the root of uncertainty is a fear of failure.
We’re not afraid that we don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re afraid that what happens tomorrow will be so painful that we won’t survive it. We have already created a worst-case scenario in our minds, and the likelihood of it becoming reality is what really keeps us bound, not uncertainty itself.
Action Step: Examine your uncertainty. What lies at its root? What emotion comes up when you think about doing the thing that you’re uncertain about?
2. Understand that failure is a natural part of life, and embracing uncertainty is key to defeating failure.
Everybody fails, and failure holds the best opportunities for growth. When we succeed without experiencing failure, our account is narrow. A person who can speak to both failure and success has a much more textured life and can help others navigate both waters.
For every success story that you hear, there are at least ten stories of failure to supplement it.
Action Step: Talk with someone who you view as successful and ask about the times that they have failed.
3. Embrace the idea that nothing is completely within your control.
We saunter into the world daily, ignoring the many risks that we encounter. When we step out the door, we take an enormous leap of faith that we will get to our destination. We trust that other motorists are as diligent as we are. We hope that no one decides to harm us. We assume that we are healthy and nothing will happen to us.
We hedge our bets with the universe, forgetting that nothing is guaranteed. It is just as likely that you will survive your break-up as it is that you will find another partner. It is just as likely that your business will succeed as it is that it will fail. Life is about taking risks, and without uncertainty, surprises would not exist.
Action Step: Make note of everything that requires trust in the uncertain. Some of them are automatic, such as driving. Note the times you rely on others to make decisions in your best interest. What are you really in control of?
4. Be willing to open up to the universe.
When we release our expectations of what should happen for us, we allow the universe to deliver in ways far beyond our wildest dreams. By dwelling in uncertainty, we limit the space in which the universe has to work.
Approaching the unknown with openness breeds a multiplicity of experiences that strengthen our resolve and help us grow. I learned my best lessons when I relinquished control.
I quickly came to understand that in order for me to grow, I had to let go and leap. By choosing to remain paralyzed, I was choosing to rob myself of some of the best experiences of my life, like a new relationship that supports my growth and my beautiful daughter who helps me appreciate life.
Action Step: Take a situation that you are uncertain about and imagine what could happen if it turns out ten times better than you hope it will. What emotions would you have attached to that experience? How would releasing expectation free you?
5. “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.”
This quote by Epictetus is an excellent piece of advice. It provides a clear path through uncertainty—taking one step at a time. Sometimes we look at the first step as insufficient, but all you need is one step.
Once you take that step, the next step becomes easier, and so on. Having too definite a path can serve to block opportunities disguised as surprises.
Action Step: Think back on all the experiences in which you only saw the first step. How did they turn out? Was the second step anything that you could have predicted?
6. Take your worst-case scenario and dissect it, asking “what if?”
“What if?” is a powerful question. It primes us for possibilities and allows us to examine the constancy of our reality. If we are fully devoted to the process, asking “what if” can challenge our perceptions of what is possible for us.
So what if you did quit your job and had no money? Would you be forced to use talents that you have kept hidden? Would you face your fear of asking for favors?
What if you left the relationship and didn’t find someone right away? Would you sit with yourself getting to know the you that you forgot in that relationship? Is the worst thing that could happen truly that bad?
Action Step: Complete this activity with a trusted friend and continue until you can’t think of anything worse. Build a scenario of survival and thriving from your rock bottom.
7. Keep moving forward.
Nothing beats uncertainty like facing your fears. Moving forward brings you face to face with risk but also with hope.
Your life is not the same as it was last year, nor will it be the same tomorrow. When you make an intentional choice to embrace uncertainty, you take back your power. Not only will you be at peace with what may come, you will also have released your attachment to things going exactly as planned.
Action Step: If you are facing a paralyzing fear of the uncertain, your best bet is to take a step forward. Everyone has experienced the negative effects of uncertainty. The majority has thrived. You are not alone and you can do it.
What steps have you taken when faced with paralyzing uncertainty? How did you move through it?