Friday, February 6, 2015

Embracing Uncertainty

Now that I have to consider myself a recent college graduate, I've been thinking a lot about this interesting and overwhelming state of being. I have a degree from a great university, and have been looking forward to getting this piece of paper for most of my life. Since the age of six I've diligently followed what I was "supposed to do" to get to graduation, and now all of a sudden I don't have a plan anymore to tell me how to be successful. Whatever I've been working towards this entire time is actually now what?

I really don't have an answer. But maybe not being sure can be a good thing, and I'd like to share why.

I'm realizing more that being able to navigate through uncertainty depends on perspective. When I was busy following my plan, I didn't give myself the freedom to accept not knowing what the future would look like. Adjusting to uncertainty isn't easy after years of having an academic road map with the milestones neatly planned out, and the bubble of college life offering insulation from the bills and unexpected expenses of the real world. But now that we've technically learned how to be successful adults, we have to actually do it, and somehow do it well. At the same time, it's a unique situation to have the freedom to try new things without huge repercussions, figure out where our interests really lie, and not be tied down to anything else in the process. Having a positive mindset towards this can help us realize the potential benefits of not having everything figured out, and provide clarity in the long run. In a sense it's about being selfish in the best way possible, by taking the opportunity to actually try to find what we want, without paying regard to what we think we should want.

So how can we practice embracing these impending uncertainties?

1. Focusing on the present
It can be stressful not knowing whether an interest, a job, or a person is just passing or more permanent. Because it isn't always possible to assess the long term significance of something right away, maybe the best thing to do is to acknowledge what the experience has brought so far, and appreciate the value it has added in the present, rather than looking too far ahead. We can't know what the future will bring until we live it out, and until then thinking about the uncertainty of it results in wasted energy. If the situation hasn't brought any positive value yet, then it might be a good idea to step away from it, or find a way to turn it into a positive experience.

2. Being resourceful, not reluctant
It's easy to think that information will fall into our laps, but we shouldn't wait for it. If we want something, and think it will bring benefit in the long term, we need to figure out how to get there without hesitating until it's too late and someone else does it instead. If we don't know how to start, then we need to identify the steps and the resources necessary to get there. The hardest part is taking initiative.

3. Asking questions; it isn't stupid
People are a lot more empathetic, understanding, and willing to help than we give them credit for. They can be a great source of advice if we just get over ourselves and go talk to them. Asking questions was important in class to do well on tests, so the same might as well apply for "real life" tests too. I guarantee the majority of people will be willing to share their knowledge, and more likely than not will feel respected and flattered that we valued their opinion enough to ask.

4. Improving our outlook on change
It's easy to imagine our lives as straightforward, and when things come up that don't exactly fit into the path we envisioned, we tend to bucket them under impossible. But is there really a reason why these unexpected deviations shouldn't happen other than the fact that we have set mental boundaries against them? There's a good chance these changes can lead to different (maybe even better) scenarios than we planned for before. When we assess our opportunities without outside pressures and assumptions, we realize there is a lot more freedom in our lives than we give ourselves the option for.

5. Acknowledging the inevitability of failure
Once we actually become open to change, we make ourselves more vulnerable to failure of meeting expectations in the process. But even if things don't turn out they way we thought, the experience is usually more valuable than having to ask the sinking questions of "what if" later. It sounds more appealing to take leaps of faith rather than wondering in retrospect what could have happened instead. When it comes to making mistakes, in athletics we've been told to "flush it, fix it, and forget it" and I trust that this guideline is universally applicable. Shit is bound to happen, and as long as we learn from it, we can end up in a better place through the process of acknowledging it and moving on.

6. Identifying continuity
It's important to recognize the people we appreciate the most in our lives, listen to them, and give them our attention in return. The people who are there unconditionally will be willing to give us perspective when we can't find it ourselves. As other things shift or fall apart, we can trust, rely on, and support the people who are closest to us, and in that way find a lasting source of stability as a way to deal with changes and uncertainties.

Fog- Natural Bridges, CA

As I experience this new phase, I can't say that I have any answers, but I'm excited to try and find some of them. Hopefully in the process my thinking can provide some perspective for you as well.

Thanks for reading!

Fog- New Delhi, India


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