Embracing the vitality that comes with safe uncertainty
Whether it is LinkedIn, Facebook, or my inbox… it seems that everyone out there with a shred of expertise in anything is sending me a ‘How To’ guide on surviving COVID, leading through COVID, relaxing through COVID or dancing through COVID.
In the time of most uncertainty, the response seems to be the mass marketing of certainty. My inbox is drowning in offers of certainty, but the future seems no more clear.
Thanks but no thanks, I prefer safe uncertainty to unsafe certainty.
It is as clear as day to me that nobody has a tried and tested roadmap for thriving through these current times, because they are unparalleled in any chapters of history that resemble our own. The new normal is uncertainty, and it’s a feeling we don’t like.
I’ve spent decades supporting people who have had their certainty shaken out of their lives by sudden events. Terminal diagnoses, head injuries, terminally ill children, the sudden death of a family member, violence, war… a common feature has been the realisation that life can swing from planning the new bedroom wallpaper to constant ruminations about finances, death, pain, survival, and recovery.
A normal life can, in an instant, be refocused on threats that feel far from normal — failing to realise that they were always there for us, but we were able not to notice them.
I have found it helpful to be reminded of this reality to live a full life — and to this goal I have a picture on my wall at home that includes a quote from Kierkegaard, it reads:
“Tranquilised with the trivial”
My interpretation of these words is — we walk about in our lives, actively distracting ourselves from the realities of existence at the cost of failing to seize the momentary gift of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Netflix nights and feel grateful for my ability to engage with the trivial, as it is a necessity for us all.
However, the gift to me of working with people who have been unable to tranquilise themselves, due to what life throws at them, is that I have learned that there is a place for this awareness — and when it can be transformed into a new outlook rather than a fear, it can enrich life.
I don’t want this piece to drift into being a ‘How To’ guide — as I am not promising certainty in this article. Quite the opposite, I want to invite you to embrace the uncertainty and recognise that you can breath, eat, sleep and grow with uncertainty just as well as you did before. Except now, you may be more awake and able to notice that life is going on and you are gifted with it.
Let me give a more concrete example…
As I look at now and into the future, thoughts surface.
Will I be affected by COVID in any of the many ways it could land into my life? Will I lose loved ones, lose my income, become unwell myself, see my children ill, experience a worldwide financial depression…?
This is in addition to the supposed need to plan for how I will work and engage in ‘normal’ life in this uncertain context, to learn ‘new’ skills to conquer the dreaded Zoom meetings!
Let me tell you.
None of these thoughts ever help and only create pain for us.
No client of mine, with any form of illness, trauma or loss has ever benefited from this framing of an uncertain future. It creates the pain of a reality that we have not yet lived.
Life is fine. You are an expert in living it and in surviving it, that much you have proven.
You just need to realise that uncertainty doesn’t mean that things are unsafe. Whatever is coming, I guarantee you that you will eventually feel that it is normal. The internet didn’t exist when I was a teenager and yet it feels like it was always a reality.
You have an amazing ability to adapt and to grow.
Breath slowly, accept that we don’t know the future — we never did — you are a little more awake now that you notice this uncertainty. Fear can be reframed as anticipation and excitement — feeling alive is truly to feel afraid, as it is time-limited and every minute counts. Don’t fear the fear, harvest the energy.
Then play with life and be creative. Whatever way you need to live, only you can work out — and that’s something you may get wrong, wrong again.. but eventually right. That’s where you are safe st— in your willingness to try and accept that we are all just making it up from now on.
Safe and uncertain.
Not unsafe certainty
I’ll join you there.