From a young age, we’re asked what we’re going to be when we grow up. And we’re expected to provide answers within the acceptable realms: I want to be a doctor, a fireman, a dancer, a computer programmer; things that seem reasonable and attainable. While this repartee between the young and the old seems harmless, unconsciously, the reactions we receive from our elders form our ideas of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. What we’ll be celebrated for and what will result in struggle or scorn.
Occasionally, a shy or rebellious child will respond with the answer “I don’t know.” And, invariably, the response is a combination of pity and disappointment. Do these children not have dreams? Do they have low self-esteem? Are their parents not pushing them hard enough? We jump to these conclusions and give this kind of feedback because the answer is out of the ordinary. But “I don’t know” is the best answer to this question by far. It doesn’t mean the child is lost; it means the child is aware that they’re uncertain, is brave enough to admit they have yet to form a conclusion, and is strong-willed enough not to set limits on their potential just to please others. The truth is that there’s no way of knowing who you are or what you want to be without first experiencing a life without knowing, a life filled with uncertainty and possibility.
Uncertainty has negative connotations. It’s defined as a situation with unknown or imperfect information. Being uncertain of your goals or direction is frowned upon in our society.
Possibility has positive connotations. It’s defined as something that’s able to be done or within your power or capacity to do. Possibilities are exciting.
Uncertainty is the glass half empty. Possibility is the glass half full. They mean the same thing, just from different perspectives. But whatever your perspective, avoiding uncertainty limits what’s possible, while embracing uncertainty makes everything possible.
Embracing uncertainty is precisely what enables some individuals and organizations to manifest unbelievable achievements, while others don’t. The idea is to exist within a distinct balance. On one side, you must be absolutely certain in your overarching purpose and confident in your abilities, while on the other, you must shut down the fear that leads you to make short-term decisions that limit your long-term prospects. Know in your heart that you will succeed but accept that your path will be unclear at best.
While this way of thinking is illogical, it’s important to note that by nature, unbelievable achievement is illogical. It isn’t logical to think you’ll create a multibillion-dollar company where nothing previously existed. It isn’t logical to think that one day your paintings will hang in a museum and be priceless. It isn’t logical to think that millions of people will buy your records and come to see you perform. Yet these things happen, and it’s when things are most uncertain that the most possibility exists; think of it like risk and reward. As The RZA explains, “Confusion is a gift from God. Those times when you feel most desperate for a solution, sit. Wait. The information will become clear. The confusion is there to guide you.”
Whatever your magic may be, to achieve the unbelievable, you must embrace uncertainty and savor not knowing what you will be when you grow up.