Nothing preoccupies us more than the state of not knowing. Some part of each and every day is devoted to the unending task of making the unknown, known (in ways big and small). Unable to see if we can plan something in our future (“Will I get the time off work?”). Not being sure if we can count on something (“Will they deliver what they’ve committed to on time?”). Not understanding how you are perceived by others (“Am I liked and respected in my work?”) can be very draining. We seek comfort in the familiar, in what is clear.
Along the way our path is paved by small certainties, to capture the elusive “big” certainties in life. For example, we make decisions based on what we know to be true (even if it turns out we misunderstood or misjudged something). We form opinions based on understanding, but also on judgments and assumptions. We venture carefully into the unknown from the security of the known, and expect that the light we carry with us will always illuminate what we need to move forward safely and to achieve our intended outcomes. Often certainty demands a strategic focusing of that light in order to see clearly what it is we are trying to understand.
In focusing that light (from a flood light to a beam), we make irrelevant many things, not always to our advantage because certainty is something we need to balance very carefully, for it gives us both favourable and unfavorable results. Certainty of opinion can be useful to others, when we are teaching, guiding or being our best selves. It can also be divisive, laying the foundations for judgment. Being certain of something can be a restful state, but not when it can only be maintained at the expense of another; every major conflict in the world has been based on someone’s certainty that they were right. Certainty can become a demanding taskmaster that forces us to trample on our own values and principles in order to maintain the assuredness we have become overly attached to (or overly identified with).
We reach for certainty frequently when we are afraid; what that fear is depends on the circumstance. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being right. Fear of losing something you value. If you think about all the emotional and circumstantial states you want to avoid, the list is really quite endless. This is why (from time to time) looking at your motivations to reach certainty allows you to see what is driving this need. There is a wealth of information here that can help you to better know and understand yourself so you can make decisions from a place of wisdom and compassion (even when things are still uncertain). By holding on to something too tightly we destroy that which we seek to embrace. We need to balance our need for certainty with the impact we have on ourselves and others. Be open to what uncertainty has to teach you. Be curious as to why a need to know is asserting itself at this time, and then choose kindness, first towards yourself and then towards others.
“Uncertainty is a natural and guaranteed part of life. A journey isn’t intended to be seen from a birds-eye view. It’s rather meant to be lived in the moment through our own experiences. We don’t need to know what lies beyond what’s right in front of us. We’ll reach it eventually, in the right time.”
I came across a quote on Linked In the other day and it landed with a gut-punch; “Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits” (Jerry Dunn). It perfectly, and succinctly, describes a very human reaction to being (or trying not to be) overwhelmed. All at once I could feel the energy I used to resist anything that was even remotely disruptive, and what it cost me to be so fixated on protecting the status quo. Curiosity, growth and well-being become collateral damage when our first response is one of resistance. How much of the energy we use in a day is directed towards reducing disruption, protecting future well-being, at the cost of our well-being in the present?
A large part of this is driven by assumptions and expectations. It sounds like this: “Nope, no thank-you I cannot take on anything further right now, I am barely managing with what I have now. Thank-you, goodbye.” It’s a lot like chasing a door-to-door salesperson off your door-step, you aren’t even listening to what they have to say, you just want them to go away. Trying to stay ahead of whatever challenges interrupt your day (so they cause no more time-suck, de-motivation, or loss of focus) is an unforgiving process; meaning it just never ends…and it doesn’t actually work. It assumes you are always at a limit of some kind.
Once disrupted, you cannot un-disrupt yourself. The resistance you throw up to counter the challenge is often more disruptive and demanding than listening thoughtfully to the challenge in the first place, and being at your “limit” has a nasty side effect – it disconnects you from being your best self…from being fully present and open to what is really going on. We forget that listening, being open to what is going on is not the same as saying “yes” to more work or to being overly accommodating. What listening does give you are options. Listening means you have more information, and then you can consider it for action, allowing you to see not only disruption, but understand what may in fact be an opportunity.
Challenging your limits sounds a lot like embracing chaos, but it is less about being so open you overwhelm yourself, and more about being fully present in your work, so you can be more understanding with what is happening, because opportunity is often disguised as a challenge. You can miss that next great career move, or damage a valuable connection, without meaning to when you operate from a place that feels at the edge of your limits. When you’ve listened, been open to exploring, you are no longer teeter on an edge, but giving yourself room to maneuver. And if you do need to say “no” you will be more credible and more compassionate in doing so, keeping your relationships intact, possibly even strengthening them. Challenging your limits means you pause long enough to understand what it is all about before deciding what to do.
“We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges” ~ Anonymous
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Face Book or Linked In.