This post is a response to Jonathan Fields’ contest in honor of his new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance. He challenged his readers to tell a tale of a time when they embraced uncertainty and were the better for it.
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There may be other stories to tell, but I reached way into the past for this one. I’ve had greater and lesser experiences with uncertainty, but this was a pivotal one and I needed to revisit it.
When I was 18, I started working in a used bookstore. The owners were friends of my parents and I loved books so this was a pretty dreamy job as far as summer jobs go. Plus, I was starting college in the fall and it would be great to have a part-time job already established.
I had settled into my routine and was getting pretty comfortable with the situation. I’d spend a few hours at the store, then take advantage of my free time and read the books I was allowed to borrow as a perk of the job. Then I got a game-changing letter from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Summer Seminar for High School Juniors: one of the eight senior assistants had to drop out at the last minute; could I take her place?
I felt like I’d won the lottery. Theatre was my life! It gave meaning and depth to my high school years and was my declared major for college. This had to be a sign from God that I was on the right track.
I’d attended the Seminar as a junior, along with about 80 other students. It was a two-week program full of workshops, play attendance, and bonding. Making it into that program was an incredible blessing and while I had been disappointed not to be chosen to return as a senior assistant, I was still deeply gratified to have gone at all.
Now I had the ultimate invitation, one I wanted to jump at without looking back. But, oh yeah, that job. The responsibility that I’d developed over my years as the firstborn child and exemplary student started to pull me back down from the heights. Was giving up a potentially long-term, decent job for a three-week dream event really okay? Wouldn’t it be smarter to just stay where I was, content that I’d had the experience as a junior?
My parents listened and advised, helping me go over all the pros and cons, then left me to make my own decision. I eventually realized that how I chose in that moment would set the stage for similar choices the rest of my life. I could choose safety, or I could risk following my heart. I chose my heart. After all, if it turned out to be a stupid decision, 18-year-olds get away with quite a bit of that kind of thing.
It was hard quitting a job like that, especially since the owners had been so nice. But I was looking my future full in the face, and I knew my dream lay in acting. It was the right decision. I fit so much living and learning into those three weeks. I still carry the energy of that time with me. I may not have wound up acting for a living, but the real lesson I learned from that Seminar was in the power of choosing uncertainty.
Over the years, as I’ve danced between perceived safety and blind faith, my appreciation for uncertainty has grown. Once I grasped the concept that there was no such thing as certainty, I could take comfort in the fact that knowing it didn’t exist meant I could at least adapt and stop longing for something I could never truly have.
My life is full of the obvious kind of uncertainty right now. My husband, the major breadwinner, is on medical leave; I am slowly building a wordsmithing business; we want to start a family but don’t know when we’ll be stable enough to do so. This is scary. It is also thrilling. As Erich Fromm said:
The quest for certainty blocks the quest for meaning.
And I would take meaning over certainty any day.