The Uncertainty Age

As we go through life, we’re faced with a lot of choices.

From the mundane to the complex, it’s a constant barrage on a daily basis that inevitably makes you question your sanity. Do I want Chipotle or that other top-rated local Mexican joint with the Taqueria in its name? Should I wear the red shirt or the blue one to work? Should I even go into work? These are generally the easy choices that won’t affect the flow of life. You think of something, make a decision, and don’t think twice about it.

On the flip side, and you probably guessed it, you’ve got choices with a little more repercussion and firepower behind them. Is it a good idea to tell my coworker she’s everything I don’t want to be? Do I tell my friend I don’t like what he said? Do I even want to be his friend? How many tickets do I purchase to win the lottery?  These, as you know, carry much more weight. Sometimes so much weight, you become completely incapacitated in your daily life.

Fact is, as you go through your usual routine, it becomes such second nature to make choices that you probably don’t even recognize or register it half the time. You’re always making simple decisions, and many times they lead to certain results. But naturally, there are times when a choice you make or a choice you are pondering leads to uncertainty. Things like relationships, careers, money, and even habits or stupid crap like where to go on vacation. And this is where we, as a race full of adults trapped in kids’ bodies, get tripped up. Like the stereotypical movie character running from Mike Myers in the forest, yea – you’re probably tripping over nothing.

So what exactly is “tripped up”? We freak out. We freeze. We choke. We get emotional (in many different forms). Anger, sadness, anxiousness, you name it. And nine times out of ten, the trigger is simple: we’re uncertain (and in turn, fearful) about what’s to come before or immediately after making a choice.

The Driving Force of Fear

Like an intricate yet perfectly planned out chain reaction, a decision we ponder or make inevitably riles up our uncertainty, which in turn riles up probably the most dreaded human emotion we have: fear. Ah, smell that? No one does. But there’s two types we can experience. When it’s real and it’s sudden, you can almost see it taking effect on someone – the sweaty palms, blank stares, and pale face. This is the type that can save your life. If you’ve found yourself in a burning building, the good kind of fear kicks in: hey, let’s mosey on out of this hot ass building before things go south in the next 24 seconds. Great, that makes perfect sense. Fear saved your life here, and that’s the way it should be. Then there’s the fear that creeps up on you, overriding your mental state and rendering you almost useless. Sounds worse, right? Yet it has nothing to do with your life being on the line.

Unfortunately, as the human race evolved and became much more than just cave men and skilled laborers, a different kind of fear crept into society – the bullshit kind that instead of saving you, is slowly killing you. The kind where your brain makes stories up in your head in order to give yourself affirmation that somehow being stuck in a job you’re miserable in is just awesome because it’s a paycheck and you’re learning valuable life skills. Or that being with that person who doesn’t respect you is the best idea because you won’t be able to do any better, so saddle up and get ready to ride it out.

Turning to this made-up source of fear is probably the worst thing you can do. We grip so tightly onto the story we sell ourselves, we can’t let go because we’re busy seeing 39,386 steps ahead of ourselves. Things have to be lined up so perfectly, there is no way around it. To most people, the idea of taking a step without knowing how it’s going to end up is the equivalent of taking a step on a thawing lake at spring time. “But you wouldn’t take a step on that lake for fear of falling in, so why would you take a step somewhere in life when you don’t know if you’ll fall or not?”

Newsflash, you’ll love this – because 95% of the time, it works in your favor. It is exactly this uncertainty which we have to embrace if we are to break free from our comfort zone. You’ve heard that before right? Much easier said than done. And this is why it’s 95% – because even though the step may not propel you in a straight line towards your given goal, it gave you the benefit of breaking free from bad habits, comfort zones, and stereotypes.

Lucky for you, there’s an easy solution on how to gauge if you should take a step. It’s simple, it’s foolproof, and the results are now guaranteed not 95% but 100%, backed by millions of people around the globe. Here it goes: if you feel you need to take a step and are absolutely afraid and shaky about it, then you do it. How do you know if you’re going in the right direction? As you approach your goal, you’ll find the road becomes tumultuous the closer you get. Call it a test, call it an exam, call it whatever you want – it’s called life wasn’t meant to be easy. It also wasn’t meant to be predictable. If it was, would you be happy? If you could see what you’d be doing 20 years from now, would you really want to know? Sure, if you would end up a successful millionaire in a happy marriage, why not? But what if that wasn’t true? It doesn’t even matter.

People, ideas, money, possessions, and everything in between come and go in your life. Some people are there to stay for a long time. Some are there to teach you a quick lesson and leave. Money comes, money goes. Ideas flow, ideas go. Possessions are replaced. And this is certain: there is never assurance of what will stay and what will go. Buddhists latched onto this idea and called it impermanence. Even the seemingly most structurally sound things will wear down and eventually disappear.

If you are able to embrace the idea of uncertainty, embrace the fact that if one thing leaves (whether it be a person, some money, a job, etc.) you aren’t doomed, then life will be so much richer for you. You will no longer be motivated by fear but driven by a sense that as life changes, you are ready and able to handle it. Handle it knowing that things will get better, new opportunities will come up, and you aren’t screwed.

But first, you have to be OK with not always knowing what’s happening next.

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