In the fall of 2007, I was confused as hell.
I had recently graduated from college but still had no clue what I wanted to “be when I grew up.” I’d jumped from mediocre job to mediocre job… from a psychosocial therapist to an insurance salesperson to a nanny to a cocktail waitress to a retail manager.
After years of having been in a steady relationship, I suddenly found myself single and bombarded by d-bag after d-bag… each of whom I seemed to fall for.
And to top it all off, I had no established hobbies or interests aside from partying and trying to impress said d-bags.
To say that I was lost would be an understatement. I had no clue who I was and I had no clue what I wanted from life— all I knew was that it sure as heck wasn’t this.
So what do you do when you’re lost and confused?
Conventional wisdom would say, “Think hard and figure your sh** out at all costs.”
Instead, I did the opposite— I dropped the exhausting notion that I had to have it all figured out, and I dove head first into the deep waters of uncertainty.
I quit my job, applied for a year-long foreign work visa, and bought a one-way plane ticket to Australia. In January of 2008, I left the country without an inkling of a plan.
Today I’m going to tell you why this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Against every bit of advice that’s ever been thrown at you, today I’ll propose a strange notion: that maybe it’s ok (in fact, maybe it’s more than ok) to not have it all figured out. In fact, maybe you’re here to learn just one thing: to embrace the mystery, the uncertainty, that is life. And perhaps the more that you learn to rest in this uncertainty, the closer you end up to those answers you were seeking in the first place.
START BY ASKING THESE TWO QUESTIONS
Before I made my decision to leave the country, I asked myself two simple questions that flipped my world upside down in an instant. When you’re deeply uncertain about life, these are the questions that it might behoove you to ask. The first question is simply this: what’s the worst that could happen if you let go of needing to know all the answers?
1. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
What’s the worst that could happen if you let go of needing to know all the answers? As humans, we have a strange compulsion to figure everything out and to turn unpredictability into certainty. I wanted the answers to come to me like a flash of lightning. I imagined that this was how life worked; that I couldn’t be happy until I had every detail of my life squared away. I wanted to know what my “calling” was and who my soulmate was and where to find happiness and when life would finally make sense. I wanted to know who the heck I was.
But why this strange compulsion to know, to be certain? What would happen if I just stopped needing to know all the answers?
I asked myself this question and the only answer I could think of was this: the worst that could happen is that I won’t have it all figured out.
I thought about it for a few minutes more and came up with a few more blurbs:
The worst that could happen is that I’ll be 30 or 40 or 50 and I still won’t have it all figured out.
The worst that could happen is that I’ll never have it all figured out.
The worst that could happen is that everyone will think I’m some wandering, aimless, blob-of-a-person.
The worst that could happen is that I’ll end up lost in a sea of uncertainty and perceived judgment.
And then I thought, “Wait… that’s it?”
“Aren’t I lost in that sea already?”
And so I decided, well hey, I might as well be where I’m already at.
After all, my life wasn’t going to end if I didn’t know all the answers. I wasn’t going to fall off the edge of the earth or get eaten by a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. My Myspace page wasn’t going to get unexpectedly deleted. (Yes; I said Myspace.)
The only thing that would happen is that I wouldn’t have it all figured out—which I already didn’t anyhow.
Ask yourself this question today and see if it shifts your perspective on things.
2. IS LIFE EVER CERTAIN?
The second question to ask yourself is this: can life ever be certain?
Is it even possible to have it all figured out? Does such a thing even exist?
If you find a calling or a career that you really love, who’s to say that your calling won’t change (or that it shouldn’t change)? Who’s to say that your path won’t evolve or that you won’t wake up one day without a job?
If you’ve found your lifetime love and your soulmate, who’s to say that your feelings won’t change or that this person will always feel the same way? Who’s to say that you might not lose that person someday?
Not to be depressing, but life is %&$ing weird, guys.
Who’s to say that any single thing in your life might not change in an instant?
Maybe life is a never-ending mystery, and your only job is to learn to be ok with that. It doesn’t have to be a scary thing; instead, it can be freeing. Once you can learn to trust and to feel safe within this blanket of a universe, then you no longer need to cling to a certainty that just doesn’t exist. You can rest in the questions; you can live in the bittersweet mystery.
HOW THE STORY ENDS
So did I come back from Australia knowing what I was meant to do with my life?
Nope. I came back from Australia just as confused as I had been when I left. I got a second college degree and I found a job and I bought a house, simply because I didn’t really know what else to do. And although I wasn’t wandering aimlessly as I had been before, I still felt lost.
But just as I had done before, I gave myself permission to feel this way. I learned to embrace the uncertainty and to live in it until it was no longer an enemy, but an awkward sort of friend (you know, the kind who stays at the party far longer than you want her to… but oh well). I learned to rest in the open-ended question that is life and to let myself steep in the mystery and the wonder of it all. Above all, I learned to trust.
Three years after my return home, I still rest in that open-ended question. I go to work every day and I still feel as if this isn’t quite it. After a 2 ½ year relationship, I find myself back at square one once again. I wonder if I am meant to live in this house or to travel the world; I wonder if I will ever find the right person or the right job (or if such a thing even exists). I still have no effing clue where my life is headed.
But at the same time, I have things figured out more than I ever have before. I’ve learned to look less to others for definition and more to myself. D-bags be forewarned: I no longer need your attention to feel like I’m somebody. For the first time in my life, I’d rather be alone than be untrue to myself.
When people ask me about my hobbies and my passions, they are no longer greeted with the blank stare of a girl who spends all her free time at the bars. Instead, my answer is simple: I love to create; I love to write; I love the strange feeling of connecting to people through something as simple as words on a page. This right here is what I love to do, and I’m doing it. So what if it’s not how I make a living— still, I am doing it.
Every day I am crumbling more apart and yet falling more together all at the same time.
I think that you’ll find the same thing to be true for yourself, if only you can remember one simple thing: it’s ok to be lost. It’s ok to let go of needing all the answers. It’s not going to kill you— in fact, it just might bring you to life.
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[Image credit: milos milosevic]