Embracing Uncertainty

We crave certainty. We like to make plans and execute on them, believing they will lead us right to the desired result. As humans, we want to create certainty but it just doesn’t exist. The truth is that there are more unknowns than knowns. Things don’t always turn out like we planned, especially in creative endeavors.

In animals, uncertainty can lead to a heightened state of awareness, but humans are unique in our ability to reflect on it. We tell ourselves a story about it, dwelling on potential results, and this can lead to fear and anxiety. We worry about future threats, but avoiding uncertainty robs you of opportunities. Great work requires moving forward in spite of it.

Creativity is inherently uncertain because, by definition, to create something new is to venture into unknown territory. Along with uncertainty comes the risk of loss and exposure to judgment. Uncertainty slows us down and can paralyze and keep us from acting. We’re hardwired for it as part of our survival instinct. Uncertainty causes suffering, anxiety and fear, but we must embrace it if we want to create something new.

In his book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields offers a strategy for leaning into the pain of uncertainty. Certainty anchors can work as a psychological bedrock on which to launch into the unknown. These anchors are rituals and routines. You see them in every faith and they offer a source of comfort in an uncertain world. But ritual does not necessarily need to be faith-based. The simple act of engaging in a ritual or routine serves as a certainty anchor. The anchor adds something known and reliable into your life. Their consistency makes them an effective tool to counter anxiety. They help you live with uncertainty as well as help you to move past it in order to create something new and innovative.

Recently, I adopted a new routine that changed my life. When my day job schedule changed, I lost the time I had previously used to write. I wasn’t getting any writing done and feeling frustrated and guilty about it. After reading Mark McGuinness’s Productivity for Creative People, I learned two new strategies.

First strategy is to do the most important thing first. If you don’t, it will get sidelined and pushed aside by the ebb and flow and unpredictability of your day.

Second strategy is to plan and make the time for it.

For me, this means getting up at 5 am in the morning to do creative work for ninety minutes before I go to work at my day job. I also implemented a log to track my hours and which projects I work on.

This new routine has been transformative. It’s given me a framework to be successful. I’m writing daily now. It’s an anchor for me, knowing this bedrock of my personality will be honored and expressed. The interesting consequence is that I am now more generous with my time during the rest of my day. I no longer move through my day feeling resentful that I should be doing something else. As I go to sleep at night, I look forward to waking up to my writing the next morning.

Certainty anchors provide you with a way to center yourself. When you aren’t quite sure where things are going, the unknowing can stop you cold. But when you have a practice that grounds you, you feel more prepared to embrace the uncertainty in your work and in your life.

Moving forward in the face of uncertainty requires courage but also practice. We must cultivate the certainty of who we are and what we stand for.

You must go out into the world to deliver your gift.

The only thing that is certain is that you have one.