I used to be scared of uncertainty. I still do, sometimes.
Unknown is always scary — or at least so they have us believe.
Think about movies and TV shows that are designed to scare you. You know the most scary part?
The anticipation. The build up before you get a full glimpse of the threat, or the consequences. Steven Spielberg openly admits that his mechanical shark not performing as expected was a blessing in disguise, as it forced him to hide the shark out of the view most of the time in Jaws.
But think about it. Future is always uncertain. Even the best-laid plans are not 100% infallible.
And therein lies the problem.
Misplaced Trust in Plans
Here’s how it goes:
- You have some kind of expectation about the future.
- To maximize the chance of that expectation getting fulfilled, you make a plan.
- Because you have a plan, you expect the future to go according to the plan. Your expectation grows, and so does your anxiety.
The more parts and details your plans contain, the more occasions for things to “go wrong.” This can create the false sense that your “success” depends on the future unfolding according to your plan. The more carefully laid-out your plans are, the more burdensome it becomes to you, because you have greater expectations and more details that are subject to “failure.”
Soon you become so wired to your plans, that anything resembling unplanned, unexpected, unknown events seems threatening.
This fear of uncertainty can stifle your life. It will kill spontaneity and creates distrust of your natural ability to weather the currents of life. Your faith is ultimately placed on an unreliable entity — your plans to manipulate the future.
You cannot succeed this way.
Disappointment and failure occurs only where there is an expectation. So if you hack at this root of the problem, you can cut down this sick tree.
But here is the tricky part. I am not necessarily advocating that you live a plan-free life. Some people are perfectly content to live totally day-to-day, happy-go-lucky, waking up every morning going “I wonder what’s going to happen today?”
If you are one of these people, bless you. But the rest of us also want our life to add up to something. We have intentions. And we hope for the future to contain things that we hold dear.
How do we do this, without relying too heavily on schemes, strategies and predictions?
You do this, by focusing on the essence.
Here’s an example: my current project/intention is to create a situation where I have time and space to work on my music and my business.
Notice how I put it, and how open the statement is.
This situation I’m trying to create, can manifest in many different ways. I may borrow money from bank to afford the time I need. I may find an angel investor/patron to fund the start-up cost of my music/blog business. I may apply and win a grant from a private foundation focused on fostering innovative music businesses. I may find a brilliant social lending site which will help me present my business plan to a pool of open-minded venture capitalists. Or one of my blogs may take off, because I got featured on a national news for some fluke reason.
I am open to and exploring all those possibilities. How my goal gets accomplished, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter to me. But I am clear on the essence of my vision: time and space to work on my business.
I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a strategy. I don’t even have a timeline, though I have a vague sense of time frame.
In the other words, there is very little in my vision of future that can fail.
Of course, the most crucial part still may not materialize. I am naturally concerned about that. But I am not worried about any other details. I don’t get discouraged if I read that there are no venture capitalists for music industry. I don’t get hung up on how to make a case to banks about giving me a large unsecured loan. I do explore and consider those possibilities, but my future’s potential remains limitless, because I am not attached to a specific path. I do have some minimum requirements (I don’t want anyone in my family to die and leave me money to fund), but it’s limited to some far-fetched scenarios.
Because I don’t have specifics, because I am leaving a lot of things unknown — my future is filled with potential for the unexpected. Instead of worrying about whether my plan is going to work or not, I simply hold on to my hope that something will work out, and that the solution may be something better or weirder than anything I could have imagined. I remain optimistic and open, because I have cut down my vision to pure essence. There is less to fail.
That’s not to say that I am sitting and waiting for something to happen. I am exploring all of the above avenues actively, and out of the research rises possibilities that may merit pursuing more fully. But even after I pick directions, I make sure that I remember, this can work out in many ways. If the direction I’m pursuing turns out to be a dead end, I don’t get discouraged. The uncertainty remains even after identifying potential paths — but it’s no longer threatening.
Don’t limit the future
The world is full of surprises, whether you have plans or not. If you over-rely on details, those surprises seem like nothing but threats that can wreck your carefully laid-out plans. Instead of filling all the empty, unknown spaces in your future with seemingly-necessary strategies, leave them open and mysterious. Leave room for, and expect surprises. This way, when unexpected things do come up, it’s easier for you to interpret and use that event as a positive influence on your life.
As you learn to leave your future open, you’ll begin to realize that uncertainty actually breeds more hope. Because you don’t know how things are going to work out, you’re more open to the unexpected, never-could-have-imagined solutions. In fact, if you are too attached to your pre-conceived notions, you may miss indications of those unforeseen paths to success.
Make uncertainty your friend, not your enemy. And you’ll find that you’ll worry less, and achieve more.
And always be hopeful.