Historically, one of the ways I’ve dealt with uncertainty and ambiguity is to become controlling. If I didn’t know what was going on, I’d make a plan or force a decision so that I did, because then at least I’d know, and knowing was more comfortable than not knowing.
It should come as no surprise I was a stage manager in high school, and for a couple of years in college. For those unaware, the stage manager is the person behind the scenes of a show who is calling all the lighting and sound cues, the person who makes sure the sets are moving when they should, the person who determines when the show starts, even. This is not done without input or help, but the ultimate responsibility is the stage manager’s. I loved stage managing. At last my character traits of controlling and perfectionism were put to good use. Instead of being disparaged for them, I was lauded.
Unfortunately, while all the world’s a stage, I’m not the stage manager. Nor did I get the script in advance. For someone prone to anxiety, and who likes to know what’s happening beforehand, this is not a good combination. To manage this, I could have become the type of person who does the same thing every day, who sticks to a schedule rigidly, who never tries anything new, who lives in a safe container of the known and the familiar, but I get bored and restless. Well shucks. What’s a gal to do then?
Lately, instead of defaulting to controlling, I’m allowing all of my feelings. I’m letting it be OK that I’m scared. I’m letting it be OK that I think things should be this way or that. I’m also letting it be OK that there’s a part of me itching to decide one way or another. These days I’m letting all my parts co-exist and that means accepting uncertainty. The truth is, for all my planning, nothing ever happened the way I thought it would anyway. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop planning altogether – I will never be a person who’s comfortable flying into a foreign city without knowing where she’s sleeping that night – but it also means I’m allowing for flexibility.
According to my spiritual teacher, and many teachers, adjustment and flexibility are essentials for human progress. My teacher says, “Intelligent people will not cling to old, outdated ideas. Rather they will wholeheartedly embrace that theory which adjusts with time, space, and person, and will continue to exist forever.”
He’s speaking about societal theories here, but I think the same principle applies on an individual level. I must discard old and outdated ways of being in the world. Handling uncertainty by clinging to a fixed plan no longer serves me. Dealing with ambiguity by forcing a decision before the answer is clear no longer works for me. The only person I have any agency over is me, and treating myself with gentleness, humor, love, and respect sounds like the best plan to deal with uncertainty that I could ever concoct.
I dream of a world where we accept uncertainty. A world where we realize nothing will ever go exactly the way we planned. A world where we embrace flexibility and adjustment while we move ahead on the path of our lives. A world where we allow all parts of ourselves to exist in peaceful harmony.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.