Our Relationship With Uncertainty

     Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, begins with the words, “Life is difficult.”  Why would Peck make such a broad-brush analysis that he felt applies to everyone?  He is correct.  Life is difficult for everyone, the rich and poor, young and old, the healthy and infirmed, even for the beautiful people.  The reason Peck is correct should not only make sense to us, but such a response to some phases of life should be anticipated.

     We create our context: As we evolve, we create our individual library of experiences thatcategorize events taking place in our lives.  For example, when we learn that pleasing others is important, we develop various people skills that meet that need.  When we learn to divide people into categories, we subjectively gravitate toward those who fit into our levels of comfort and pleasure.  We develop people pods during our junior and senior high days.   These pods expand to include fraternal and social groups, as we get older.  For instance, we select a church family that inspires us to frame and reframe our lives.  While church shopping, we immediately recognize when we are either among strangers or birds of like feather that fly in our flock.

     The realization comes that our script is not the script: A natural part of our evolution includes the development of related skills, e.g., our athletic abilities, our interests in mechanical drawing, our fascination with numbers, our affinity with the helping professions (medicine, law, teaching or social work) or our varied interests in the arts.  Frequently the enjoyment of our natural abilities will point toward our eventual vocation.  Soon, however, we are confronted with a competitive world where only the best are selected to continue in some fields.  For example, an actress in the local community theater may achieve great accolades and support, feeding an illusion that she could succeed on Broadway or in Hollywood.  Disappointments come.  We have seen candidates voted off the island on the television show, American Idol.  We may not be accepted to enter various colleges and universities.   We say, “I received a combined 1475 on my SATs, but my first choice of college chose 1,200 incoming freshmen that scored above 1500.”  Life becomes more uncertain as the external world appears to choose its favorites.  “He never called for a second date! I wonder what I did to cause him to lose interest?”

     A growing sense that we are alone: The safety and security we once took for granted (our home, our parental support and our place in our social groups) begins to lack certainty as a new reality breaks in upon us.  As we begin to assume increased responsibility for our destiny, consequences become very real.  There is no safety net insuring our security or success.  Daddy will not pay for car repairs and our traffic tickets.  Mom will no longer be the advisor as we enter the world of selecting an eligible partner from a collective of strangers.

     Our social and academic skills prove inadequate: Our stress and anxiety levels increase because we find ourselves in waters in which we have never paddled.  So far in life, our strides have been within the context of a protected environment.  Life begins to demand that we use responses and skills we have not yet developed.  We have the choice to remain as we are or learn to thrive in the realm of uncertainty.  We may need to learn the skills for dealing with an employee who is insensitive, callous and mean spirited.  We may have to develop our own incentives to deliver the best results we can regardless of the uninviting nature of our environment. Remember, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  Life is uncertain.  We do not know our potential because, thus far in our journey, we have not had to expand into the area of our unknown potential.  Risk taking and courage to face uncertainty are requirements.

     Taking control brings consequences: The struggle begins as we seek freedom from the conditioning of our families and the inscriptions by our social groups.  The established taboos often yield to our desire to experiment.   Each of us either stays within the bonds created by our conditioning or we break from the security they represent and enter into areas of uncertainty.  If we are latent gays or lesbians, we come out of the closet.  If we grow discontent with the required beliefs of our religion, we cease practicing it.  If we feel the lure of the material world, we enter it with energized eagerness.  We may pursue patterns that tell us that life will be more fulfilling if we gratify our appetites, appetites that are intimately connected to the external world.  Their illusionary quality can bring us fleeting moments of pleasure, satisfaction and acceptance by our peers.  Many refer to these years as “sowing my wild oats.”  Our disappointments teach us that not everything is what it appears to be.  We can be hurt, grow insecure and become lost while learning that the world can be an unpredictable and unstable environment that really does not care about us.  When we fall from favor, we only have ourselves.  That can be scary.

     Uncertainty is our interpretation of life: Everyone’s uncertainty is understood differently because the lessons we came here to learn are different.  It is here that our psychic pain offers us its most astute form of guidance.  Are we listening?  For example, we can disguise the stress of uncertainty by wearing an assortment of masks.  People can create countless works of art, and while in the midst of widespread public acclaim, commit suicide.  People can write the book and pursue a life of alcoholism.  People can have the perfect marriage, while an unidentified neediness drives them to justify a lifestyle of promiscuity.

     A radical shift in attitude is required: Rather than wanting to control uncertainty we must embrace it, recognizing that it is one of the few mediums that will promote growth and evolution.  We must reframe its meaning from one that inspires fear to one that evokes excitement and enthusiasm.  Uncertainty is our friend.  Our anxiety communicates that more is being required from us.  When our period of uncertainty passes, hindsight helps us recognize that unknown skills that we possessed have begun to surface.  Only those who let go of “what works” will begin to paint outside the lines.  They will move beyond the horse and buggy to cars, from mustard plasters to antibiotics, from floppy discs to memory sticks and from worshipping God to co-creating with God.

     Error is part of our growth pattern: When we trust the flow of life we will greet new, unexplored experiences as opportunities to develop and refine our skills and our identities.  This orientation makes it impossible for us to feel sorry for ourselves or feel victimized by life.  We will make mistakes in judgment.  We will fail.  No one masters any new skill without missing the mark repeatedly along the way.  These are necessary steps to learning, not dark forms of sinfulness.  If we were true masters, uncertainty would never be feared.  Uncertainty is a form of guidance communicating that we are all students.  We may also sense why much of the wisdom of those who lived before us appears timeless.  With this understanding there is no sinning or righteous living, there is only skill development. In the final analysis, our destiny on earth is not determined by what we believe but rather by what our loving energy is able to do for others and ourselves as we co-create with God.