Certain Uncertainties

A few thoughts about uncertainty ...

People talk a lot these days about uncertainty with regard to our shared economic, political, cultural, and personal futures. Many speak wistfully of an imagined past time when things were perceived as more certain. Life seemed more predictable and known, and is usually remembered as more pleasant than our current realities.

Uncertainty within our memories of times past is often absent or downplayed. We revise our past to make it more pleasant, more simple, more predictable looking back at how things unfolded.

The term "euphoric recall" in the addictions treatment arena describes a common tendency among people with addictions to talk in positive and even humorous terms about their past drug use, highlighting the positive while downplaying the negative. Events which objectively involve pain and suffering are presented with some enjoyment, which puts the addict in danger of relapse. We all do this to some extent in our personal and professional lives.

In the business world, the popular acronym VUCA reminds us that life is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. I would not argue with any term on this list or the overall meaning that things are often not stable or predictable. One need only pay attention to the news to see evidence that supports the use of this term.

However, I wonder when have our lives, personal, professional, and public, not been thus?

"Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty."
~ Brian Greene (Physics and Mathematics Professor)

My parents experienced a world depression as children, followed by a global war as young adults, then lived on into the tumult and change of the past fifty years, all the while living life, working hard, and raising children. They did not seem unnecessarily deterred by their own personal history of upheaval, change, and uncertainty. They simply lived with an awareness that things can and do change.

So we do not necessarily remember that uncertainty has always been part of our daily lives...

We tend to talk about uncertainty as though it were a special event or trait, present only at certain times and in certain situations.

I remember being uncertain on my first days:  of school, college, the military, marriage, every new job, new church, new house, and too many other things to list. I hoped, expected, and maybe prayed to do what was expected each time, to be successful, to live up to my own ideals. Sometimes this was what happened and sometimes it was not.

Uncertainty is often painted as negative because uncertainty creates fear, which can be paralyzing.

I have had to find new ways to get to work on occasion, because my normal route was unavailable due to human failure or Mother Nature. I have woken up employed and gone to bed unemployed, started a day with my father on the other end of the telephone and ended with him gone forever from this planet. I woke up on a beautiful Tuesday morning in September and ended the day in a restless attempt to sleep and forget the images of that day's terror.

Uncertainty about a great many things exists on a very personal level for everyone, every single second of every day.

Sometimes we confuse certainty with intention. I intend to navigate each day in a certain, predictable way. Promises are made and obligations formed, based on our intention to live predictably. We try, really we do, to introduce certainty into our personal and professional worlds.

We expect, desire, and try to introduce certainty through our intention that things happen in the way we expect them to … in spite of ample evidence that things do not always happen as we expect.

In actuality, we do not really have a choice about facing uncertainty. Uncertainty just "is" and our role regarding uncertainty in our lives is to simply adjust as well as possible to that reality.  This is not a bad thing ...

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next."
~ Ursula K. Le Guin (Novelist)

Uncertainty is often mixed with a delicious sense of anticipation or excitement. This is as it should be and the sensation of anticipation of change is what makes life livable, even with that constant uncertainty.

Our lives would be very bland indeed, if we were not able to entertain some level of uncertainty. Rather than fear and avoid uncertainty, we might do better to embrace not knowing how things will work out.

A question for you to ponder and respond to:

How might you make uncertainty in your life an asset, rather than a liability?