Uncertainty is an inevitable part of life, yet so many of us do whatever we can to squash it. That space of not knowing usually provokes anxiety, so much so that entire industries have been built around providing quick answers. Look at the endless titles of self-help books in any bookstore and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve given any notice to Virgin America’s recent ad campaign about its merger with Alaska Airlines you probably agree that, yes, electricity and guitars were a surprisingly great combo too.
Here’s another one… uncertainty and joy.
Ok, so that might not be as ridiculously cute as the dog and goat up there, but maybe its got the power to create some rock-n-roll too.
Even my industry is built around the concept of not knowing. Someone usually works with a coach to unearth the questions that feed uncertainty; we give form to ambiguity, a vital variable in the equation of transformation.
But notice how I said “questions” no “answers.” Have you ever sat down and thought about the power of a really good question and what it can ignite? A good question sparks a movement in the direction of focus – it creates momentum.
Now think about a time in your life when you were most enlivened, stimulated, and joyful. It was likely from the movement in a direction that felt promising, or at the very least, hopeful. You were on a trajectory with a goal or idea in mind worth realizing.
But think about what it took to be on that path and what kept you in motion. The tension born out of uncertainty propels drive, and continual inquiry determines course correction and hope. There would be no movement if it weren’t for not knowing.
But so many of us think not knowing is a bad thing. At a young age, we were conditioned to provide the correct answers in school and avoid bad grades that resulted from not knowing. We lost touch with the wisdom that uncertainty catalyzes momentum and creation – the ongoing process of becoming – a fundamental and joyous part of living.
My personal belief is that joy is the ongoing process of mindfully becoming, not the accumulation of tangible achievements. That process of becoming cannot exist without uncertainty and the powerful questions born out of it.
I just closed up shop after so many years of devoting my life to this business, what’s next?
I hate my job and desperately want to do something else, but what?
Is my partner really truly right for me?
I HAVE to solve this issue but I have NO idea how to even begin.
Given the current political climate, what will our future really look like?
It’s natural to want the answer NOW and feel anxious until it arrives. Sadly, the need for quick answers may be working against our best efforts. In an anxious state, we’re not as receptive to new ideas as we’d like to think. Novel solutions, brilliant ideas, and innovative thinking needed to solve any challenge require curiosity, which by definition is an eager, yet graceful, acceptance of not knowing. Curiosity lives in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is where our good ideas and joy come from. Anxiety, if high enough, can serve us a neurochemical cocktail that literally shuts that down. Good ideas don’t come from fearful thinking, they hatch from joy and uncertainty.
Attempting to crack a difficult or complex challenge requires first that we recognize there is nothing wrong with not knowing. Embrace that space by stepping into a heightened curiosity, convert anxiety to joy. Instead of asking, “What’s the right answer here?” how about, “What’s a better question I’ve not yet discovered?”
Uncertainty and joy… very possibly an unlikely pairing, but maybe just as tasty as sea salt and dark chocolate.
Where will the wave of not knowing to take you? What would it take to convert the anxiety from uncertainty to the joy of curiosity? How much more imaginative could you be? Connect with me here, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Happily uncertain and joyfully yours,
Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in San Francisco and Sacramento, CA committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.