Dealing with Uncertainty (Part I)
The theme of uncertainty seems to be coming up for a lot of my clients, and myself included. It can be uncomfortable, terrifying, sleep-disturbing, or just plain unsettling when we don't know how something will turn out or when we're in the midst of a transition, whether it's work, relationship, or health related. For me, it's been about a major life move to Austin, Texas, and stepping into a new marriage and family there. This is a more personal blog post where I'll share some of what's come up for me and my biggest take-aways.
First off, I like to remind myself that life is uncertain, in it's essence. Whether it's the seed that has no idea of the plant or tree that's in store for it, or the landscape that doesn't know how harsh or dry a winter it will be, uncertainty is a governing rule. As humans, we devise all sorts of tools and technology to be able to better control our environments, and this gives us the perception that we have control...and while we do have far more control than most beings on this planet, we still aren't impervious to the unknown. So how do we have better internal tools (not just remote controls and aps) to navigate a sometimes terrifying terrain? "Everything has it's wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content." -Helen Keller It's hard to imagine a world more uncertain than to experience it as blind and deaf. Yet, Helen Keller chose not to interpret it that way. I love her use of the word "wonder". Call it wonder, curiosity, or excitement to see how something turns out, they are all great reframes for worry. It can be helpful to ask ourselves when we are in the trenches of doubt, "I wonder what learning, growth, and even gift will come out of this challenge?" Then, we can ask Patience to step forward, reminding us that things may not be clear as soon as we'd like. We can be OK in the darkness of the unknown, as we rest assured that some learning or growth WILL come to light, even if it's down the line. I was put to the test recently during a week of gloomy, cold weather in Austin, feeling trapped in a small house with my new family: Justin, my now husband, and his twin eight-year-old girls, who were all sick with the flu. After a series of disappointments, the uncertainty of my impending move, and a real sadness around the loss of my life in San Francisco, the stage was set perfectly for all my deepest fears and doubts to step into the spotlight. "What was I thinking that I could just drop into this new life in Austin and be happy??" "I'm not sure where I fit into this new family...Is there even space for me?" And the worst of all voices rearing it's head during uncertain times: regret. "Did I make a mistake?" Ten years ago, I would have heard all these doubts and fears and run with them. "Yes, I made a horrible mistake!" may have been my painful take-away. Yet this time, despite the fact that my heart hurt and I let tears flood down my face, deep underneath it all, I trusted that one way or another, even if it meant not moving to Austin when I had planned, I'd be OK, and I wondered what gems of growth were there for me to pay attention to. As I allowed room for Wonder, the first thing that came to me was that one of the things that could come out of this was an opportunity to practice speaking my truth to Justin in a way that was still kind, even though it wasn't what he wanted to hear. The next was to listen to the themes I had set as goals for the year---family, creativity, and simplification. Remembering these themes served as guideposts in an otherwise unknown and unsettling terrain. And of course, the theme of family hit home especially, knowing that much of my learning in this next year was going to be about prioritizing and creating family, which made it feel more OK that I was going through these growing pains at the homefront. That evening, after a some needed crying and soul-searching on my own, I shared with Justin the most vulnerable aspects of what was coming up for me. In the end, he heard me, which didn't take away my sadness, but ameliorated the pain of it. When I awoke the next morning, he was nowhere to be seen. Eventually I found him in the back, amidst piles of junk, as he tore through all the contents of the garage, emptying it out completely, including stuff that wasn't even his, from previous tenants. "I know having your own space is important for you and I thought we could carve out some garage space to turn into an art studio," he said. "I want you to be happy here." Even though the scene---the trash-ridden yard on a cold grey winter's day with us both feeling/looking exhausted---couldn't have looked more depressing, it was then that I saw the glimmer of hope. The fact that he had heard my woes, and responded with such an action, made all the difference.
"Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark," is the quote by Rabindranath Tagore that comes to mind. In this case, I could substitute "dark" with cold, grey, and trash-ridden. My fears, doubt & regret trickled into the background, restoring a sense that I could, in fact, be content with my latest major life decision. And as always, taking stock of the things one's thankful for in the current situation, works miracles through uncertain times. Focusing on the little things that are known & appreciated always helps make the shift out of "freak-out" mode. Even though I would have never known it at the time when all my disappointments and fears came crashing in on me, perhaps the most tangible thing that came out of this uncertain situation was that it catapulted us into taking real steps to make me happier when I move. If it all hadn't had come to a head that night, we wouldn't have had the time later in the week to clear the garage and then wouldn't have been able to get a contractor over to survey the project. Hindsight's 20-20. It's now looking likely that by the time I move in April, I'll have a working studio, and now, a softer landing pad. What gains or opportunities for growth have you gotten out of your most uncertain and scary periods of time? What's helpful for you to remember when you are thrust into uncertainty?
Because if there's one thing for sure, there will always be more uncertain situations ahead. And better to feel equipped and start practicing before the fog rolls in again. Feel free to reach out if you'd like additional support, Siri