Idea Number Two: You Can Tolerate Uncertainty
You do not need to have certainty or guarantees in order to live in the world. You can tolerate uncertainty. In fact you must tolerate uncertainty, because to avoid doing so is to shrink and wither. But the good news is that facing life’s challenges head-on is the surest way to live a life of more pleasure and less pain. Of course, for brief moments, you might be able to find relief by avoiding. But at what cost? Doing so just lets you live under the yoke of tomorrow’s fear and face the same painful decision again. Avoidance guarantees that, over time, you will miss out on a great many opportunities. It’s simply not possible to find success, love, happiness, or even peace of mind without subjecting yourself to uncertainties.
The Fine Print:
Now, I am not saying that you should take every risky option that comes your way. This is not an excuse for reckless behavior. Reckless behavior occurs when you can control the level of risk and you choose not to. That has nothing to do with tolerating uncertainty. Of course at times you will decide that certain risks are not worth taking because there is not enough potential benefit—that’s fine. But when you know what the right move is for yourself, make peace with whatever uncertainties come with it and commit to the path.
I am also not saying that you need to preserve the unknown. If it is within your power to reduce the uncertainty—to find the answers to your questions—then do it! It’s only when there is no practical way to reduce uncertainty that you need to tolerate it.
So allow the unknown to be there. Don’t hide from it. Don’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible outcomes, like drawing sea monsters at the edge of the map. It might be useful to consider worst-case scenarios, but that’s not the same thing as assuming that the worst will (certainly) happen. Don’t pretend you can see the future. Instead, humbly acknowledge that there are limits to what you can predict and control.
What this idea will help you avoid:
In a word, stagnation. Being intolerant of uncertainty will lead to you doing less and less—to being less and less. This is because anxiety spreads and avoidance once indulged becomes addictive. Why? Because when you give into your fear and avoid something that was important, your anxiety level drops (at least in the moment) and this feels good. But once the pattern of responding to anxiety with flight has taken hold, we will be tempted to avoid more and more situations. But it’s never too late to break this pattern. Remember there is no reason to avoid anxiety. It’s not pleasant but it has never and will never truly harm you. So avoid the avoidance and in time you will experience less anxiety overall.
What this idea will help you gain:
Confronting challenges will make you drastically more effective. It will allow you to become a member of the community of doers—people living according to their values and pursuing their goals. Tolerating uncertainty gives you freedom of movement. It puts you on the path that you want to follow. Tolerating uncertainty makes it possible for you to live the life you want to live.