Personally, I worry about who I’m going to be and what I’ll be doing a few years from now — thoughts that give me existential dread from time to time if I really allow myself to feel the weight of it. Some people worry about employment, their business, the people whose livelihoods depend on theirs. And maybe you worry about your family, your loved ones’ health, or preserving your assets, or even finding your one true love. Everyone’s worries are different but they all have something in common: It’s the sole notion of uncertainty that really gets to us, regardless of what we worry about.
If the future were certain, then we wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore.
We wouldn’t have to be anxious about what could possibly go wrong in situations that mean so much to us. We’ll have all the answers and we’ll be able to work around them ahead of time, always getting things right on the first try. Life would be so much easier if we were all so sure of what’s going to happen a month, a year, a decade from now. Everything would be a breeze; predictable.
The reality is that nothing is really set in stone. Our past and present situations do not 100% guarantee our future. A bad day today doesn’t guarantee another bad day tomorrow. Losing your job doesn’t mean you’ll never get another. Life happens, plans change, and we are forced to adapt to situations that don’t fit with our expectations whether we like it or not, whether it’s easy to do so or just plain stressful.
I remember the story of Camille, someone I used to work with, who already planned her life a year from now, and at that moment she was convinced she already knew where she was going. She revealed to me these details when she was faced to make a choice between her well-paying post and her dream job, which didn’t pay as much. It was a career she’s always wanted ever since she was still a student, she mentioned. You’d think anybody offered their ideal job would immediately jump into the opportunity and say yes, but she came to me so distressed precisely because she didn’t know what to do.
For Camille, she didn’t really think a life-changing offer would disrupt her plans: Plans that made her comfortable with where she was heading and made life feel stable. It was riding a train that she had barely any clue about the destination, about how it’s going to look like at the end, and if she’d even like the place the train will take her to — a classic example of life being unpredictable regardless of how much we plan for the future.
We worry about the future, regardless of its promises, because we have a natural fear of the unknown. We fear that we would not have any control should something unexpected happen. We are prone to doubting our ability to gracefully handle such situations, always hoping for the best outcome.
Nobody wants to feel powerless, and when we think about facing future situations we haven’t prepared for, it’s only normal to perceive that there might be risks and failures involved.
But we shouldn’t feel that just because there are challenges ahead of us that there’s nothing we can do to overcome them. If we can manifest so much energy to stress over it, we can certainly put the same amount of energy into being enthusiastic about it, too.
When we’re faced with decisions we’ve never really considered before, it’s especially important to take a step back and focus more on what could go right instead of wrong. We worry about the wrong so we can be prepared for it, so we can minimize our losses, maximize our hits, and learn from our misses. The right balance of practicality and ambition makes the unknown less of a burden and more of a challenge, even just by a little bit. We acknowledge that we have no control over what will happen and it’s because of this lack of assurance that we can trust ourselves to be prepared for anything. And if we can live day after day gracefully facing and overcoming difficulties that we face, then we’re one step closer into being strong enough to handle whatever the future holds for us.