It’s easy to feel overwhelmed these days. The Internet swarms with headlines that highlight our collective uncertain future. For instance, if nothing is done to curb the effects of climate change, by 2100 Europe’s death toll from extreme weather could rise to more than 150,000 people per year. A plastic garbage patch bigger than Mexico was found in the Pacific Ocean. And then, of course, there is American politics.
I don’t wish to create a tonality of doom and gloom. Rather, the point I’m trying to make is this: existence is an often befuddling and weighty assignment.
Life in the 21st century offers few forms of certitude or permanence. Our lives are constructed upon wobbly foundations. You don’t need history books or headlines to know this; you can probably just glimpse into the history of your own life. Yet, despite the chaos, is there anything to feel certain about? Upon these foundations of sand, to what can we root ourselves?
A perfect illusion
Over the course of our lives, many of us make decisions that lead to a sense of personal security. Some folks get married. Some might buy condos. Others accept jobs with health benefits and pension plans. Many of these milestones involve personal sacrifice and hard work, and when we achieve them, we are—of course—entitled to feel proud.
Those of us chasing less-traditional careers— the entrepreneurs and the acrobats, the writers and the other oddballs—need to be prepared to slog through a swamp of uncertainty. It’s part of the occupational landscape. Still, regardless of career choice or income, no one is immune to the sneaky curve balls of existence. We can lose a job. We can lose a parent. We can receive an unexpected health diagnosis. The disagreeable reality is this: not many things are guaranteed.
Catalyzed by a reoccurring conversation among friends, I’ve begun to think about what we can feel certain about, and I’ve isolated a few things that help me manage life’s ambiguities. My offerings are simple, perhaps even obvious. But writing them down has been a helpful exercise.
How to not crawl under a rock
The title of this article, I admit, is mildly misleading. As far as I understand, there is no singular antidote, no cure-all for uncertainty. Sorry. The act of “adulting” is essentially about developing the skills to navigate ambiguity and cope with unknown outcomes. Rather than eliminating uncertainty, I’m wondering if the better way to address it is to focus upon mental resilience? Essentially, if you can’t slay the dragon, perhaps you can get some handsome, heat-resistance amour.
Firstly, at the risk of sounding like an O Magazine columnist, I’d like to extol the power of self-care. I can’t define what self-care looks like for you, but I know some of the things that work for me. Regular exercise is a big part of self-care. Getting enough quality sleep is also a key factor. Prioritizing activities that require me to be fully engaged in the present also helps. (Lately, this has been photographing people and taking improv classes.) If the advice to take care of your body and mind sounds rather basic, that’s because it is. Yet how often do we fall off the bandwagon of self-care? I think we all need constant encouragement.
Another way to combat uncertainty is through interpersonal connection. Ideally, our relationships with friends and families — even if they aren’t perfect — act as regulators in an ever-changing external world. With some friends, I’ll have light-hearted laughter. With others, I can have deeper, more challenging conversations. Family can offer a sense of constancy. Prioritizing people (read: co-creating healthy relationships) can be an effective antidote to a chaotic world.
Finally, over the past few months, I’ve been doing a small experiment: I call it ‘The BiT’ (The Beauty in Today). When I crawl into bed each night, I write down a couple of things that were good in my day, essentially stuff that elicited positive emotions. The entries have ranged from Korean dinner with a friend to dancing alone on a rooftop, from a quick interaction with a friendly barista to sinking into a new book. Essentially, it’s about naming the things that brought joy or pleasure in my day. The activity of orienting oneself around positivity has been the subject of academic research, and behavioural scientists suggest that we can rewire the neuropathways of our brains by practising specific positivity exercises. While anchoring ourselves around “the good stuff” doesn’t decrease the uncertainty of life, we might be able to augment that previously mentioned mental resilience.
Look at me, I don’t really know what I’m doing
Upon our teetering foundations, how can we truly steady ourselves? This is the guiding question. I’ve offered some thoughts, but the truth is that some days I don’t feel confident in my abilities. I can be over analytical and I often make choices that are less-than-ideal for my physical health.
In my most exhausted moments, I long for guarantees — or at least the illusion of them. In these moments, I give myself a pep talk: Everything is in flux. Nothing is final. No job, no home, no emotional state.
Things are going to change. If I orientate myself around the inevitability of change and ambiguity, perhaps I can move forward with a bit of graceful surrender.
Lead photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash
Read this next: In Defense of the Selfie