Moving on can be hard, change can be hard, but uncertainty is the hardest.
The other day I finished my last shift at a job that I really did love. Everyday there may not have been the best, but it was home to me. It was comfortable and it was supportive.
Which I guess in a way may it harder for me to accept that I had to move on and start that next chapter.
It is the people and the environment that make a job what it is. We had ourselves our own tight-knit family each with our own quirks, departments and personalities.
But then I guess it made me also realise why I was finally moving on.
I have no certainty in my future, none of us do. So when opportunities arise that fit into your short and long term plans- you take them.
None of us know what will happen tomorrow, we may think we know: the meetings, the appointments and the job we get up and go to every morning. But in the scheme of things we don’t know: our national security, predictions on climate change, the prospect of war and terror, and the economy appearing stable one day and distinctly unstable the next. How can we cope?
Let us start by asking why it is human nature to crave certainty. After all there is no other creature that would spend half of their life worrying about what might be and what can’t be. The explanation lies in the structure of the human brain. The cortex is the largest area, relatively larger than any other animal. This allows us to develop and use complex symbol systems like language (as the most obvious). It enables us to store and organise experience, solve problems and make plans based on experience and consequently to speculate about the future.
So the cortex doesn’t just allow for these activities to take place- it demands them. We can see this in young children and adults on a daily basis when they repeatedly and endlessly want to know “why”? Why does life have to be this way, why can’t we do this, why is the world the way it is. No one can truly answer these questions for us. Parents try to, simply to put their children’s minds to rest. But what about for you and I? No one can answer our questions because there are no answers, there is no certainty.
So when we don’t know what might happen next, the amygdala (the “fear” or emotional centre of the brain) goes on high alert. We react and become hyper-vigilant, restless, uncomfortable and uneasy. Once we regain a sense of clarity and can see ahead again, not only do we relax, but we also experience a rise in dopamine which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. So in simplistic terms, we are punished when we can’t understand or predict, and are rewarded when we feel in control and certain of our future once more.
In many ways this sounds like a highly adaptive system, as it encourages us to solve problems and gain control over our surroundings. The problem that we face and struggle to tolerate is the uncertainty that comes with it. We have come to automatically expect others to eliminate the uncertainties for us, the scientists and the doctors in that profession. It is easier to do this rather than to seek out the evidence and weigh it up for ourselves. So as a result we tend to accept the first explanation we are offered, because it gives us a sense of fulfillment, disregarding the evidence upon which the explanation is based. It’s completely illogical because nine times out of ten the evidence will change, which I guess throws us into the depths of more uncertainty.
So coping with uncertainty and change? Just accept the fact that the future is not nor will never be totally predictable. And on occasion that is for the best. A surprise on Christmas Day under the tree is joyous, discovering you were offered your dream job or meeting someone new in your life- those split second moments are what life’s greatest treasures are made out of.
Life is like a circle and you are the filter. There are things in your circle that you can control and there are things outside that you can’t control: what people think of you or the choices others around you make. Try to remain mindful, and just remember that you have no control over these things and it may not ever happen. If you only concern yourself with what you know to be true and real, you’ll feel relief, calmer, and better equipped to deal with the things that you can control.
And sometimes we need that- to believe the first answer to the uncertainty of things we see happening in the world, even if we know it’s completely fallible. And no matter how naive it may seem, ultimately our lives should be filled with joy and satisfaction, living each day to its fullest and creating memories that make us wake up each day. We seek answers no matter how ludicrous, to make the world a happier place.
So while I am uncertain about what the future will hold for me, I’ve come to realise that that’s ok. My job was my safe haven, I knew what I was going to do when I came to work each day and that sat well with me because it was certain. I showed up each week and finished each day at work.
I probably clung onto it too long on reflection. Mainly because I needed that reassurance and certainty that I was going to be ok without them and I had something permanent to go onto. I do and I’ll be ok, I’ll grow as a person, learn new things, explore the world and realise that there is much more to life.
Life is ok with uncertainties just remember that and you need them in your life to keep you on your toes. But finding the right mix between certain and uncertain, balanced and unbalanced, happy and unhappy is important as well. Just remember that it is your life to do and feel how you want in moments such as these. Deal with things the only way you know how and seek help where it is needed.