What you can plan is too small for you to live.” –David Whyte
I dreamed last night of being perched on top of a big hill in some sort of dubious wheeled contraption reminiscent of a soapbox derby car. I spent the entire dream positioning and repositioning myself on the cart to be better situated for the sound of the gun, the start of the race, and the push down the hill.
In this last week before departing for countries unknown, we’re paring down to the barest essentials and final details. My car and major appliances are all sold, my cats are re-homed, my stuff is stored, and I’m living out of a suitcase in my parents’ guest room. Time is doing that thing where it somehow slows down and speeds up simultaneously.
This week gives me the feeling of standing on the diving board as a kid, my toes curled over the edge in that most excruciating moment before jumping. Swimming in the deep end was not so bad—though the 8ft marker and the darker blue of that corner of the pool carried an air of seriousness that the shallow end didn’t, it was not the awaiting water that was frightening.
The moment of hesitation on the scratchy thin plank was the thing:
the breath in my chest waiting to be sucked up and held; my wet bathing suit and hair clinging to my skin out in the open; the feeling of the air above, around and under me; the space between me and the pool—a distance that seemed so short when viewed from the embrace of the water but seemed impossible if I thought about it too much from my exposed position on the board. I knew it would be over quick once I jumped, but each time I felt so intensely the altered state of the free fall, it could be difficult to bring myself to it again.
But maybe the magic of the diving board was that by the time I got close enough to the edge to feel scared, the idea of turning around and inching my way back to the other end of the board became more unsafe and unthinkable than just taking the leap.
I’ve never been a particularly adventurous person.
Maybe because I was raised to be a GoodSmartGirl, I always thought about the possible repercussions and wanted to feel prepared for the various outcomes before taking a risk. At times, this has made me an excellent planner. At times, this has made me an unbearably anxious person.
This trait brought me to a rather unattractive quarter-life crisis (imagine a frantic, ugly cry I somehow managed to live out in my daily actions for months on end) when I was 26 and found myself without much of a life plan. I’d achieved a lot of the things I’d been aiming for and didn’t know what to dream on next, and other things had completely fallen through. Even when I could avoid looking at the massive blank spot in my existential agenda, the panic would to creep into my quiet moments and ask me in a drippy sick voice, how could I relax and watch TV at a time like this? How?! How?! When there was so much I still hadn’t figured out?!
It was like every moment I was showing up to dream school, naked and realizing I’d completely forgotten the homework project that was 100% of my life grade. I walked around with the shame and guilt of not being prepared, which would have meant, I guess, sitting down and determining my thesis statement and outline for a project I could research and complete with a partner by the due date. It took a time for me to even think about trusting the part of me that was resisting the assignment.
It took therapy for me to realize that I was mistaking the presence of uncertainty in my life for a flag that I was doing something wrong.
It’s true that there are some things we can do that might reduce the shock of change in our lives; a lot of standard adulthood procedures involve piling ourselves with insurance policies, contracts, property deeds, warranties, project plans, marriage vows, and investments to approximate some form of security. But even with all that, none of us really knows what will happen in the next 5 minutes. What’s more, we don’t know just how we’ll feel or what context we’ll have when something does happen.
I’ve been working on a more honest relationship with Uncertainty.
After all, Uncertainty is good friends with Surprise, Curiosity, and Creativity, and that’s definitely the crowd I want to hang out with. Uncertainty is the dark quiet one on the edge of things, the one who’s not from around here, the one to whom I can pose my Big Questions, the one who will ask good questions back. When I say I want to find something beyond the places and paradigms I’ve known, Uncertainty is the one who won’t look at me funny, but who will just disappear from the room, and, if I’m brave enough to follow, will lead me to people and places and ideas I didn’t have the scaffolding to imagine before. Uncertainty is also the one who waits up in the hum of the new house at night when everyone’s gone to bed. Uncertainty is there on the other side of falling asleep. Uncertainty welcomes you into the deep end of the pool—the place where there are no more NO DIVING signs, where you don’t have to worry about cracking your head on a floor you hit too early.
And you, dear reader? Where and how do you meet uncertainty?