Dealing with Uncertainty (JHP Day 11)
I've mentioned this in previous blog posts, but I was raised in quite a religious Muslim household. One of the fruits that this religious background bore for me, was repeatedly instilling me with an appreciation for the unexpected nature of the world, and the fragility of the lives we live. I was always taught that in reality, compared to an omnipotent creator, we actually have extremely little control over the things that happen to us. We can’t even be sure of the next breath we'll take.
As I internalised and pondered on that idea each time it was mentioned, it impressed in me this immense sense of peace and submission - to relinquish the hold that I had on my life to something unexplainably greater - whilst at the same time pushing me with an urgency to achieve my biggest goals.
I'm certain that regardless of your religious beliefs, that mindset holds true - in a completely random universe of random events, such as the one that we live in, the smallest things can lead us down completely different paths.
Think back to when you were in high school, picking subjects you wanted to take - meeting your teachers for the first time, who would guide you through your exams - liking some, hating others - and then from that experience, deciding what you really wanted to do in life.
To describe it in a poetic way, we're all leaves, that get blown whichever way the wind decides to take us at any moment.
That uncertainty can be quite daunting. When you feel caught up in the current of a river that's carrying you somewhere you feel you don't want to go, it can be really stressful. The pressure of the people around you, the social expectations and the goals that you set for yourself based on them can often be crushing, and they can lead you to start fearing that even the slightest misstep will ruin your life.
I think expectation is the heart of the problem, when it comes to a fear of uncertainty. The root from which the fear stems. It's based on emotions. Things you feel you should be doing, because you see other people doing them too, and getting rewards that you want for yourself. That fear can often be paralysing - leading you to do things that you realistically feel aren't meant for you. Suddenly you're struggling against the flow, and gasping for air.
But there's always a way out. I think all it takes is a reframing of mind, and a bit of action.
A Harvard Psychiatrist's Viewpoint
Around early 2020, when lockdown was in full swing, I used to spend a lot of time at home, amid the COVID panic and the move to distanced learning. I think mental health became a much bigger concern for people around this time too. But as a gamer, one of the creators that I personally found to help me through that strange time was a streamer by the name of Alok Kanojia, or Dr. K, as his online persona - a Harvard trained psychiatrist and gamer who would stream about mental health through the lens of gaming, and has amassed a massive following on a number of social media platforms since.
One video of his that I came back to when visiting the whole topic of uncertainty, gave me a lot of help when trying to pin down the exact mindset best suited to dealing with it. I'll explain some insights from it below.
Action is All We Have
As human beings we are only ever entitled to our actions. Not the fruits of our actions.
You're entitled to apply for a job, but not to get it.
You're entitled to study for and take a test, but not to pass it.
The more you recognise that, the more your life starts to turn around - because you place less value in the goal, and more value in your own personal output. You stop beating yourself down for not hitting targets and expectations, and you give yourself the opportunity to let go of the emotional stress for a second - to be grateful of what you already have.
I used to hear a lot about this when listening to Stoic philosophy - an ancient Greek doctrine focused around embracing life without the tethers of emotion and feeling - coming at it from a very logical perspective.
The only thing you get to control, every moment of your life - is showing up.
People (including myself) tend to get so caught up in the consequences of their actions, getting angry and feeling ashamed for the things they do or don't do. But if you stop worrying about the result and focus instead on the action itself - life turns around.
So what if you apply for a job and don't get it? You can't directly control it. So what if you don't pass the test? - that's not up to you. So what if your business idea doesn't perform well, or go the way you expected. All that you have power over is whether or not you keep putting in the work.
One of the best quotes I heard from the video, was this:
"The depth of human arrogance is to think you can control another human being - let alone your own life."
I think one truth that I've found, explained very neatly through a metaphor - is that there are many ways to climb the mountain, but all of them reach the top.
You don't need to follow the cookie cutter mindset that you make for yourself based off of what you see others doing. If you let the current carry you where you feel it should, and focus on your own actions - it will take you to where you want to go without you feeling like you have to do much at all.
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