Acceptance of not knowing

“Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.’” ~Mark Z. Danielewski

I think the hardest thing for me to cope with over the last few years of so much constant change has not been the change itself; it’s been the constant ‘not knowing’ of where I am headed or where each change is going to lead me.

Of course, none of ever know what tomorrow brings. Everything in life is uncertain. But most of the time, we can shield ourselves from facing that uncertainty because there is enough in our lives that is stable to make the chances that we know where we are headed (at least short-term) reasonably high. For most of my life, I’ve had a fairly well planned out trajectory through my education and career goals. Although those did change from time to time, they were more course adjustments than radical departures from the planned course.

The last few years, however, have been like walking in a thick fog. I have only had the vaguest ideas about where I might be headed and no knowledge about how to get there, so my path has been more like a drunken stagger through a misty haze than anything that would remotely resemble a clear course of action. And this has been painful for me. It’s psychologically painful to feel so lost and unsure, and it’s quite embarrassing to be so clueless about where I am headed at this stage of my life. I am downwardly mobile and lost at a time when most of my peers are at the point in their careers of being upwardly mobile, achieving ever more prestige and ever higher salaries all the time.

But there has been one enormous benefit of all of this. I have gone from someone who had a high need to control everything in my life and to have everything all planned out to someone who is learning to relax into the ‘not knowing.’ Oh, I still find myself wanting to control and to plan and to have a clear map, but I am able to loosen my grip now in a way that I never could before.

I can contemplate the possibility that change will keep on coming in just about every area of my life without panicking—in fact, I can even feel the stirrings of an appreciation of the adventure that it could be. I still have a ways to go, but I am able to consider options now that I could not have done just a few years ago. I am able to be in places of ‘not knowing’ with much less stress than it would have caused before.

If maturity really is about the acceptance of ‘not knowing,’ then the last few years have brought a great deal of maturity with them. Maybe I’m finally growing up. While I’d really still rather know the plan up front with a crystal clear map on how to get there, I have accepted the not knowing because I am finally developing the faith that I’ll wind up where I need to be faster if I stay focused on the only step I can see—the one right in front of me.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

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3 thoughts on “Acceptance of not knowing

  1. I found an old notebook of my rambling thoughts and words the other day. In it, I wrote these words: “Does everything have to have a why?” (I’m confident I wrote them after 3 hours of sitting in a class focusing on existential dilemmas.) Can we not quit looking for necessary answers to our actions and thoughts and just accept them as “being?” On the same note, does every journey have to have an ending? Can we not just enjoy the journey? Perhaps we seekers are merely seeking because it’s what we are suppposed to do – perhaps the journey really IS the destination. More importantly, perhaps by being on the journey, we are already “there.” Not to say that in today’s world we aren’t supposed to have goals or a destination, but sometimes I know I get so caught up on destination that I forget to watch that proverbial scenery as it is whisked by. If I focus on “getting there,” I miss the in-between.

    KJ, have you ever studied mindfulness? If you have not done so, I think you would enjoy it.

    • Thanks, Lisa! What beautiful thoughts! Yes, I have studied mindfulness, and it is indeed a powerful practice. And I am slowly learning to enjoy the journey, but it does not come naturally to me. I struggle with feeling safe (due to baggage from past history, of course), and my desire to have everything planned out and structured is my way of attempting to create a sense of safety. Going with the flow feels very unsafe for me, so it’s hard to relax into it. But I’m learning!

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