“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”
~ Brené Brown, excerpt from Forbes (2013) interview
Why is it that we often have a negative view of uncertainty?
This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately.
As a scholar working in the field of information research, the aim is often to reduce uncertainty.
Consequently, uncertainty is often presented in a negative light.
It’s associated with a variety of unpleasant emotions, including: fear, anxiety, and panic.
We have questions, but lack answers.
We want to know more, but the more we find out, the more we realize how little we actually know.
It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it?
And yet, as Brené Brown notes in the quote above, uncertainty leads us to some of the most amazing experiences in life.
It opens us up to love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity.
These are the emotional experiences that ground us, but they also unsettle us.
And nobody likes to be unsettled. Nobody likes to be vulnerable—to feel vulnerable.
Hence why uncertainty is often viewed as something to be reduced, rather than increased.
It usually is associated with changes that are happening in our lives. Changes that are difficult to accept. Changes that upset our plans for the future.
Suddenly, our lives do not look anything like we thought they would.
A wave of reality comes crashing down, making us fearful of the next. We spend our time wondering where and when this next wave will happen, and how we will handle it. To mentally prepare, we exhaust ourselves with “what if” scenarios.
In the process, we lose out on the fullness of uncertainty and what it can bring to our lives.
Because change can actually be a positive thing.
Yes, bad things happen in life.
But good things can happen out of them.
It’s not black and white.
Uncertainty keeps us asking questions and asking questions keeps us in a position to grow. Once we stop growing, we stop living.
Simply put: uncertainty makes us humble and humility makes us teachable.
Like Brené Brown, I think one of the most beautiful parts of uncertainty is that it can help us learn how to love better, increase our capacity for joy, teach us to trust more, embrace others, and exercise our creativity. Sometimes, the most exciting parts of our lives are those that we did not plan. Instead of spending our time dreaming up the worst “what if” scenarios, maybe we should spend it dreaming up the best.
As for me, I definitely want to stop running from the waves. I want to be better at swimming through uncertain times, maybe even learning to play through them. I don’t want the deep waters to scare me. I want them to excite me. They are where strong connections are made. They are where learning occurs. I know it’s not easy. There will be times when I’m blindsided by the unexpected, when I’m drenched with self-pity, when I want to give up. But I won’t. Because, “what if” the moment that I do, I miss out on a beautiful experience?
So, while we may be in agreement that we are all experiencing uncertain times, let that be an invitation to bring out the best in ourselves rather than the worst. I don’t know what you are going through, but it is my prayer that good will come out of it. The world needs more beautiful “what if” scenarios. It needs your love and joy.
To conclude, let me pose my own “what if”:
What if, instead of running from the waves, we create some ourselves?
Now that’s a beautiful thought!
Schawbel, Dan. (21 April, 2013). Brené Brown: How vulnerability can make our lives better. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/04/21/brene-brown-how-vulnerability-can-make-our-lives-better/#2dd7e4ea36c7