To be fully alive it’s important to embrace, rather than to fear, uncertainty. Why? Because life is uncertain. There are no guarantees and no absolutes. There are only degrees of risk and understanding that represent our best efforts to be successful and happy over time. Once we embrace the fact that life cannot be controlled and that our understanding is always incomplete, everything comes alive. Read on to explore how to make it so for you.
Last weekend my wife and I were driving back from our week at the Chautauqua Institution when we and many others had a near miss on the highway. If filmmakers had been around, the scene would surely have been straight out of an action-packed thriller • only this time it was our lives that were at stake.
My wife was driving when we encountered an unexpected cloud burst. One minute it was clear, then there was a torrential downpour, and then it cleared up again. During the rain, however, a car in the passing lane, one car up from us, start to hydroplane and spin around on the road • all at 70 miles or 112 kilometers an hour. Multiple cars were in both lanes, both in front and behind the hydroplaning vehicle.
While spinning completely around, 360 degrees, the car moved from the passing lane to the travel lane. Spinning around another 180 degrees, the car ended up safely in a perfectly placed ditch. Through all the commotion, not a single other car came in contact with the whirling dervish (although there was goodly amount of swerving and braking). It was hair raising, but everyone came out OK.
That’s how life works. From one minute to the next, everything can spin around, out of control, 360 degrees. We’ve all been there. Everything can change in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. We’re never more than an episode or a phone call away from a disaster.
The question is not how to prevent such things from happening. We can’t. The question is how to take the vicissitudes of life in stride, embracing uncertainty, rather than panicking, overreacting, or losing all hope of finding our way. It can change us, but it cannot change the flow of life itself.
Author Alison Smith writes about how she lost her Catholic faith, when she was 15 years old, the day after her brother died in a car accident. Roy was not as lucky as our incredibly choreographed spinout. When that wave came crashing down, it took with it Alison’s faith. More than 15 years later, however, Alison found something she could finally embrace: uncertainty. Here’s the story in her own words:
After hearing that the mother superior of a cloistered Carmelite convent struggles with doubt every day, I went back and reread “a number of books about the lives of saints. Nearly everyone had gone through a period of struggle • a ‘dark night of the soul.’ They all doubted. All around me, the great believers had been wrestling with their demons, this great uncertainty, and I had not seen it.”
“I started to take a closer look at my doubt, which had been with me every day since Roy’s death. Perhaps doubt, I thought, wasn’t just a way station between beliefs. Perhaps doubt was the destination. Doubt, I realized, had given me many gifts. Doubt may not be as comfortable as faith, but it is a great agitator. It breaks things open. It pushes you into the world. It makes you ask why.”
“This is how I have come to see things now: For the first 15 years of my life, I was blessed with faith; since then I’ve been blessed with doubt. It was doubt that made me realize that sometimes when I think something is ending, it’s actually just beginning. Like the day in the bathroom when Christ walked away. That wasn’t the end of the story. That’s when things got interesting.” (Real Simple magazine, February 2008).
Perhaps that relates to some of the comments Barack Obama made in the profile on his faith that appeared recently in Newsweek magazine. He has clearly cobbled together his own version of Christianity based on a wide variety of influences and experiences. “I’m on my own faith journey and I’m searching,” he told the reporter. “I leave open the possibility that I’m entirely wrong.”
That may seem like an odd position for someone to take, let alone someone running for the highest political office in a country that is at least nominally Christian. Shouldn’t he keep such doubts and uncertainties to himself? The USA has certainly had its fill of both religious and political leaders who presented themselves as being certain that they were entirely right.
Of the two, I prefer those who embrace uncertainty. Whether it be in the course of world events, natural or human, or in the sacred canopies under which we gather, I prefer those who have the honesty to admit that everything is not determined, controlled, or understood.
The question, then, is how to live in that space of uncertainty without fear, anger, sadness, cynicism, or retaliation. The answer, in my experience, is to stay attentive to what’s happening in the present moment without getting attached to an outcome. My greatest mistakes in life and work have all derived from my getting attached to an outcome. I was so certain as to what I wanted and what I believed that other people had to be pressed into the service of my vision, willingly or unwillingly.
Most of the time, when I was the one attached to an outcome, others came along unwillingly and the consequences were therefore unhappy, both for them and for me. It became an expression of my ego rather than an authentic stirring of life itself.
The antidote to all such attachment and ego is mindfulness: paying attention to what’s alive in the present moment without judgment or assumption. Step back, take a deep breath (or two or three), and notice what’s happening. Smile. Pay special attention to the feelings and needs of those involved. Don’t make decisions until everyone has been heard and understood. Once a strong, empathic connection has been established, dialogue and develop win-win strategies based upon willingness rather than certainty.
No one ever knows for sure whether a course of action is the right course of action. But once everyone feels heard and understood, new possibilities emerge that people are often willing to try. Then, stay attentive to the unfolding as it comes to pass. By staying connected to what’s alive in us and in others we increase our chances of success and happiness.
To do this, however, takes coaching and practice. It’s no simple matter to set aside attachment and ego. I have found Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg to be an excellent resource. So, too, with the recent Oprah book phenomenon, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. I encourage you to explore them both and to find other ways to embrace uncertainty along the trek of life. That, as Alison Smith writes, is when things get interesting.
Coaching Inquiries: What uncertainties are in your life right now? How are you responding? What practices bring you into the present moment? How could you relax as to the outcome you want in order to connect with the people you love? What new possibilities are yet to emerge?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Welcome back and congratulations on all the writing you were able to complete! I look forward to this next series!
Congratulations on completing the writing projects. It is great to know you that you were able to use the time to feel refreshed and thank you for sharing how you spent the time. It is very motivating and I look forward to reading both books. The next series of Provisions are ones I will be looking forward to applying to my life and sharing with the leaders on our team. Jim Tressel, in his new book “The Winners Manual-For the Game of Life,” talks a lot about gratitude and appreciation too.
In your last Provision, you wrote, “The days of successful, command-and-control leadership are numbered, if not over.” How true! It is partly because of this that at last I am taking the life changing step of launching my solopreneur business. Not the ‘best’ time since our economy is so challenged, yet it’s the right time for me. Thank you for being one of my support team. Each Sunday I read your Provision with my morning coffee and reflect on it. The only hazard of risk is not taking one–my new mantra.
I’m crying (good tears) after watching that short video clip on Christian the Lion! Thanks for sharing that • it’s wonderful! I’m so excited about this week’s Provision and future Provisions • a topic I love! P.S. Congratulations on the fruition of your writing projects.
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
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