What the unknown is and how we can learn to navigate it.
As a child, I used to find that many things were predictable. In particular, I realized the predictability in people, such as my family or my friends. Places were predictable. I knew what to expect from my school and my extra curricular activities.
Of course everything wasn’t the same every single day, or every single time. There was variation.
This variation showed in personalities and attitudes. The weather played a role sometimes. If there was too much snowfall over night, school was often cancelled, but we were due to make-up that school day by attending class sometimes well into summer. In turn, this effected summer holiday plans, or just our attitudes toward summer break in general. If we were constantly having to “delay” our summer vacation because we missed school, then what was the point in “wishing” for a snow day?
“Wishing” for something that we desire at a certain time, may result in consequences that we too wish we could wish away. Wishing for the egg to not roll off the counter is fine, but wishing for the rain not to fall defies the rules of gravity.
This isn’t a physics or science lesson, but it is important to note that some things just are, and in certain cases only our compliance is warranted. There isn’t always something that can be done to result in the change that we are seeking. We get used to the way that something is naturally. This doesn’t mean that positive change can’t be actualized within a man-made structure, system, or other tangible entity.
Flaws are all around us. In many cases, these flaws are beautiful. Have you ever heard of a pleasant surprise? Sure you have. You’ve also encountered misfortune, bad luck, and been foolish enough to get your hopes up.
So, what’s the balance between controlling what we can, not controlling what we can control, and giving complete control to the universe (or to god, or another person, or an Apple product, or to nature)? The short answer is to have faith.
The long answer? I have some ideas. I’m also curious where your mind takes you on this topic and how you overcome the discomfort of uncertainty; but first, let’s become familiar with the preciseness of the unknown.
By definition, ‘unknown’ means ‘not known’ or ‘not familiar’. Absolutely everything is not known or not familiar until we know it. Some information seems to come naturally, converting us from a state of uncertainty to certainty in the matter of seconds. An example might be to simply ask a question in which there is a simple answer (or gradually accumulating knowledge due to your environment or culture).
If I ask you to tell me which direction is north, there is always and only ever one single correct answer. Perhaps we are always seeking the correct answer, even when often there isn’t one. Sometimes there isn’t even a right answer.
We believe there is a right answer or outcome that belongs to our independent problems or situations. And, we only really worry about the unknown where there is a gram of fear in the equation, right? Because when we still have our full-time jobs, and we’re still making the same amount of money, and we’re still able to afford the life we choose to live, then all of these predictable factors are deemed “problem-free” until there is indeed a problem.
There will always be a problem – and this is the good news.
Maybe a problem interjects, but has no connection to the fact that you are working and making money and able to spend your money. If the problem were a matter of a lay-off or project set-back at work, the solution might be more straight forward than if the problem came at you from an unexpected angle.
Regardless of your circumstances or whatever causes a shift in your equilibrium, you have the necessary tools to get you through any hardship. If for one second you doubt this and you are going through a troubling time as you read this post, then know that the answers are coming to you. Wishing that you knew how to solve the problem, or wishing that you had the answer, isn’t going to make you more resilient to the problems that arise.
Actually being present through adversity strengthens you and prepares you for the next stage in your life, whether or not this obstacle is incredibly life changing or just a small pebble you can brush aside.
Finding Comfort in the Unknown
This conversation is an elaboration of Golden Rule No. 12 – a topic I just couldn’t get enough of in 150 words. I’m eager to dive deeper into the effects of not knowing and return, together, to the surface with a better understanding, a more detailed road map to not just surviving the unknown, but growing and thriving from it. Grab your oxygen tank, because we’re going down deep.
Knowing too much isn’t always a good thing
I’m one who loves to be prepared. I find great comfort in knowing exactly where I can park my car when I arrive in a new neighborhood, and what to say to someone I meet in a foreign country, in their native language. I like knowing how delicious the food is going to be at a restaurant that I’ve never been to or the reviews of a performance I’ve yet to see. Dammit, I want to know what they’re going to ask me in an interview and how to best respond to the questions so that I can be offered the job.
Depending on your personality, some of these examples might seem anywhere from trivial to paralyzing. And they get more complicated and difficult when the complexities of a situation merge with another complex situation. Consider this: all arenas of your life are running smoothly, you feel the comfort of your harvest so to speak (you’ve planned well and created a swell existence for yourself), and then your town is hit by a disaster – a natural disaster.
Nature is just one of the most powerful examples, because it is both something that we want more of and can want less of. What’s so devastating about the elements is that we have no control over them. They are easy and they are wild. Sure, we can build a fire and contain it; but what about the dry grass burning on the hilltop?
Knowing where to go and what to do in the event of a disaster is crucial. This we both know. At different stages in our lives, and depending on the landscape in which we live, we learn different tools of survival. We learn what to do and where to go via drills. We get practice.
But is there something like too much exposure to information, too much practice? Even receiving the right information at the wrong time can be unhelpful, when we couldn’t possibly understand. If we never have the chance to utilize the knowledge given to us, then we are likely to forget anyway. This isn’t to say that we can’t be briefed, but it definitely means that we cannot be prepared for all the ups and downs we may experience in a lifetime.
We need to just experience them. Seek knowledge and understanding when a problem arises, ask for help, be there for others when they travel through difficulty. Learn from others the best you can, but know that you can’t possibly be ready for all that comes next.
Everything is temporary
Heartache? Temporary. Indecisiveness? Temporary. Confusion? Temporary. Any struggle we face, any bout of discomfort we endure, is temporary. Some feelings or experiences may last longer than others, but that feeling you felt, when there was nowhere to sit in your apartment for months except for the air mattress afloat in the middle of that space called a bedroom, was quickly forgotten once your sofa arrived, right?
Warmth? Temporary. Satisfaction? Temporary. Ease? Temporary. You guessed it, even the good stuff doesn’t last forever, but we both know this. If we happened to be in a state of content at all times, then we would be subject to fail in the event of a disturbance. The ebb and flow challenges us, makes us stronger, gives us the brilliant gift of love yet asks us how we intend to survive when that love is lost.
Just as we extend our hands to catch the trailing smock of fortune, we can let the fleeting presence of pain and overwhelm slip gently through our fingers.
As far as the unknown? It’s only a matter of time before it too leaves. Soon you will know. Isn’t that wonderful?
Even well-made plans change
Plan it out, baby, but don’t get your hopes up too high. Be absolutely prepared yet forget everything you know, all at once. Hire a travel agent, buy insurance, take time off work, learn the guide to the tropics forwards and back, convert your money, leave your expensive watch at home, buy a straw hat, pack only shorts and sandals…
Ready to go?
“Well, I’m sorry to inform you Sir, but your flight has been cancelled. May I see your I.D. and boarding pass so that I can get you on the next possible flight to your destination?”
Oh, your wallet’s been stolen from your pocket?
Just when you thought everything was going to work itself out, that you had the key to settling this inconvenience, something else put you in a panic, pushed you into the dark unknown. What will I do now? What will my family think? What will happen to my hotel reservation? What if the thief takes all the money in my wallet? I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other questions that cater to your surprise, your rage, or your struggle with facing the unknown of what’s next.
I hope you never have to go through an experience like this. I know that someone out there has, though. And perhaps in another light you will have to compose yourself, remain calm and collected, forgive and forget. You wanna know what just happened in this example? Life. Humans got involved this time and ruined your day.
Or did they?
No matter how well you plan for something, you will always be surprised along the way. Maybe your surprise is an upgrade to business class; perhaps it’s one less day you have to spend with your family somewhere that isn’t Davenport, IA.
Planning is the key to having a smooth journey. Just remember that any bumps along the way will eventually even out. Laugh about it. It’s certainly not funny to have anything stolen from you, but hopefully any unfortunate thing will help you to realize that you’re still a lucky guy, right? I mean, you’re going on vacation, which isn’t something everyone can say they get to do.
Absolutely do what it is you know you can, then leave the rest to the universe. Let it work itself out, listen along the way and find that you don’t have to do it all alone, nor is anyone expecting you to.
Other people can’t exactly prepare you
Your parents have lived colorful lives. They have felt pain and joy, sorrow and guilt, they have lost and loved, made mistakes and learned from them. Your parents are not you, though.
Some of us are lucky to have parents who are active in our lives, offer support and guidance or council, love unconditionally, and share their personal experiences with us. We learn so much through them. And if you are someone who has had to look for guidance from others, a mentor, a friend, grandparents, or colleagues, know that you are fortunate too.
We can navigate our own stories by backpacking the stories of the important people in our lives. However, we all feel differently, so when each of us encounters a situation that may sound familiar, the way in which we handle or take on a challenge may be starkly different. This doesn’t mean there is necessarily a right or a wrong way of doing something. There are just multiple ways something can be done, and we have the right to follow our own intuition.
Each of us is working alongside our own connection with the universe. We can consider the guidance and stories from others, but listening might be our only engagement. When it comes time to take action, or not to take action, it will be and should be in a way that aligns with you and your values, your conscience, your karma.
Have you ever been on the phone or sitting across from someone you admire, love, or look up to, as they are offering advice or council (warranted or unwarranted) and you totally understood the concept of their situation and even why this person chose to do what she did at the time? I know this is a little vague, but implant a time when you recall a moment like this. And on the receiving end of the conversation you just see that your own experience will play out differently, that you will respond to your situation differently.
If you haven’t yet, you will eventually choose to handle a matter in your own way, despite the wisdom you acquire from someone else. Often when we are young we react rashly, thinking that we know better and even that we are smarter than someone who has lived through some of our experiences. As a result of our naïveté, we make it through the other side having garnered more pain or loss or embarrassment than we bargained for, or needed or desired. So, you call up the fellow who tried his best to steer you in the ‘right’ direction, only to say, “You were right…”
Such won’t always be the case, however. The more you grow through change, the more you will be able to make up your own mind , but also see that you know yourself much better than the last time. It’s all about learning. Sometimes the hard part is just facing the unknown, not dwelling on the fact that you don’t know how everything will play out or don’t even know where to begin.
The same goes for sharing your own understanding. Your path might not hold true to the person at the brink of the unknown, which leads me to my next point.
Allow others to learn
You’ve conquered the unknown on many accounts. You’re wiser and more stable than you’ve ever been before. You are proud and your story means a lot, to you. Let your story swim through your veins and allow you to be at ease when fear arrises, when difficulty and uncertainty affects your flow. Face the unknown with freedom and give up control when you know you can no longer make a difference.
Tell your story and share your trials with a listening audience, but then give your words some time to sink in. Allow your audience to learn from you, but also to learn from themselves. Do not judge those who have witnessed your story, your success, but have paved their own path, only to crawl back to you with resentment. Their self-punishment is more than you can possibly administer to them. Plus, they entered into a spell of the unknown and came out having learned. They know now, so celebrate with them.
Refrain from worrying
The unknown is a place that everyone visits from time to time. No matter how much we prepare, there is always something that we can learn, something that we can take away – like a souvenir. Plan as much as you can in your life, but also let life make some arrangements for you. Not all will be good, but in most cases you’re going to find that you turn out just fine, maybe even better than you expected.
Worrying is an energy expense. Yes, there are times when worry is necessary, practical and natural, but it’s up to you to use your discretion. Imagine you only have so much worry in the bank. When you spend your worry, it had better be for a good reason. Using worry on a whim, as emotional therapy or as a means to mask the feelings you in fact need to feel, doesn’t foster meaningful growth, and it definitely doesn’t improve your problem-solving skills.
Quite simply, worrying is a waste of time. When used as a feeling, the transaction is natural. Of course we may worry; but when we project our worry onto others or dwell in our concern or self-pity, we bury ourselves deeper and deeper into the sand, adding water to the mix. There isn’t a need for this self-torment. Also, it’s unhealthy to fret and sabotage a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Chances are, you spend your worry like you spend your money. Or, perhaps you can learn something from how well you manage your finances. Not quite where you expected this conversation to go, huh? But it’s so important to treat our energy as a limited resource. Relishing in the good is like receiving a paycheck, or direct deposit. Enjoying the times of comfort are like opening up your pockets for more money, more satisfaction (in most cases). Spending your worry sparingly keeps your happiness bank full and you’ll even find that it starts to grow interest. You will become more resilient to adversity and less effected by your transactions.
The unknown is a territory that we must all get to know. So, how can you get to know the unknown? The answer is simple: Allow surprise to sprinkle in when it chooses. Besides, there isn’t anything you can do about your neighbor showing up to your house with a casserole and a warm smile. More often than not, your option will be to invite him in, regardless of how much you like casserole. Thank him for stopping by, then either pull out a some plates for you and your family to enjoy or feed it to your dog.
Dwelling on the fact that you’ve been burdened isn’t going to change the fact that you now have more food on your plate. So, take it as it comes.
Learn as you go along. The better you get at listening and noticing the signs, the more easily you can become attuned to yourself and all the easier it will be to navigate the unknown, remaining neutral during times of uncertainty, and just accepting whatever it is that you receive on the other side. You’ve got this. You have the power to make it through unchartered territories. Now, just exercise it wisely, reserve your worry, and relish in the joy that surrounds you so that the contrasting experiences can shape your character.
I look forward to delving into the idea of responding verses reacting in another post. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Specifically, how do you cope with uncertainty and has there been a time when, now as you reflect, you could have saved your worry and spent your energy more efficiently?
Let me know in the comments below & thanks for joining me!
Your friend & guide,
Briefly: the scenarios in this post are for example purposes only; I, personally, do not wish nor predict any misfortune or disaster to occur to any persons. I hope that the underlying message presents itself clearly and a respectful and poised conversation may follow. Thank you kindly.