Home » Embracing Uncertainty When Every Part Of You Wants Certitude

Embracing Uncertainty When Every Part Of You Wants Certitude

“Freedom from the known is the essence of intelligence.”

– J. Krishnamurti

How much of your life is a quest for certainty?

Most people are driven by a deep-rooted striving for the reliable, predictable and certain. What if, instead, life was all about expanding your capacity to embrace uncertainty instead of striving for predictability?

This seems like a much better way of living. Life is inherently uncertain. Don’t believe me? Try to predict what you will be thinking in the next 10 minutes or what you will be doing at this time next week!

So much of what happens only makes sense in the rear view mirror.

    • Sitting at the computer terminal at the Lakeside School, how much did Paul and Bill really know about where their hobby would lead
    • Following a chance encounter at Stanford, what did Sergey and Larry expect about their futures? Did they have a SMART Goal??? 🙂
    • Dropping out of college to explore the nature of conscious (i.e., to travel, meditate and take a lot of psychedelics…), did Sam ever imagine the possibility of packing auditoriums around the world, becoming an intellectual rock-star of sorts?

As you look at the current state of your career and life, how much could you have predicted, even just a few years ago? Probably not much.

Why then, are we (and most humans I know) so fixated on being precise about outcomes?

Expectations vs reality

I’m continually amazed and sometimes startled, at the gap between expectations and reality. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes different and occasionally the same (rarely, but occasionally) – fixation on outcomes, goals, and future-states is a curious natural mode of the mind.

I say ”curious” because we strive for certainty in the future (“certainty” is a cornerstone of human needs psychology), but the world is inherently uncertain. We all can dream and envision. Yet, we all know that our vision is nothing compared to reality.

The same idea applies to work and life. I spent my entire career building visions and plans for new technology products. Yet, even in the midst of helping large teams of engineers rally around a common goal, I knew that the real purpose of any vision or plan was as much to get people working and collaborating together from a common intent, as it was actually to deliver every feature included in the plan.

It’s not that the plans didn’t matter, it’s that the purpose of planning was different than most people thought!

The only thing I could predict about my planning efforts was that things would not go as planned! I also knew that if smart people were working well together, great things would happen.

As a Professional Coach, I now see how fixation on outcomes (without understanding the uncertain nature of the world) is a significant source of stress and can cause us to overlook the innate creative capacity of the mind.

So much cool stuff comes from the “unknown.” As any leader in a growth company will tell you, innovation is the most valuable thing a company does. Innovation is born from uncertainty. A great book, The Click Moment, goes into this theme in detail from a business and innovation standpoint.

Why fight it the uncertain nature of the world? To me, it seems much better to move along with how life actually works than to pretend we can be its master and commander. More importantly, how can we be more comfortable with uncertainty?

The method-less way

To explore this question I recently turned to an interesting book, one of J. Krishnamurti’s works (transcribed from his talks by an editor), Freedom from the Known. Reading J.K. is both frustrating and enlightening. He shoots straight to the heart of what causes psychological suffering – painting a picture of the issues and a promise of how life can be different (and dare I say “better”) with a richer understanding of how the mind (and our reality) works.

Yet, Krishnamurti offers no tools, techniques or methods; emphasizing the utter futility of trying to pierce the veil of thought with more illusory thinking. Not unlike the challenge of understanding the mind as illustrated by Alan Watts (here’s me paraphrasing): “..we are faced with the predicament of trying to pull ourselves up with our own bootstraps. In doing so, we are more likely to end up on our fanny than anything else…”

For someone, such as myself, so interested in understanding the mind and how to cultivate a more productive relationship with it, this is both frustrating, but also fascinating. Not unlike a movie with a cliff-hanger, it creates a sense of interest and curiosity that wouldn’t be present without such an instruction-less finality.

Just like a child tossed into a pool without a life jacket will be more likely to learn how to stay afloat and swim properly….

Without a clear how-to guide for controlling and transcending the mind, we are left with the only thing we ever really have, the results of direct and personal experience at the moment. Without a tool to apply or new habit to build, the mind naturally turns inward, looking and searching for a deeper insight or truth.

I see the incredible value of such an open exploration.

What can we do about it?

However, there are a couple things we can “do.”

First, we can make a choice. We can decide that understanding the truth about how the mind works is of crucial importance no matter what the goal – be that living a great life or being outstanding at work.

Second, we can allow the process to happen naturally and organically. A starting point is to turn our attention away from external life hacks, how-to-guides and trademarked methods for self-discovery; and turn our attention inward, to what we see about the nature of the mind, and what lurks beyond it.

We can start looking for what is really true and what is not. We can yearn more for what we learn from our experience than what a pundit has to say about his or her own experience.

Through experience, we can start to understand that we all live in a world of our thoughts, not the world as it is. We can know this to be a fact, and with this deep understanding, start playing in the world (creating, building, enjoying…and yes – even setting goals!) with a sense of freedom and “okay-ness” that isn’t possible when we approach life from a “goal-achievement-at-all-costs” mindset or in following someone else’s strategy for living and working.

Conclusion

So many of the amazing things I’ve experienced in life were only predictable in hindsight. I’m glad life seems to work well that way, and that something is calling the shots beyond my own thoughts, plans, and schemes.

Heck, I never would have predictive I’d be a Coach, even a few years ago!

As a Coach for leaders and professionals in the Tech Industry, I also see the tremendous value in having a thought partner to work with on this journey into the unknown. Specifically, working with a coach who is willing to allow the time and space for a client to sit with the “unknown” and allow the mind to generate insights naturally about how to live well and do great work.

If you are interested in exploring how coaching can help you in your journey forward, click here to learn more.

What do you think? Let me know below. I respond to every comment!