Learning to Tolerate Life’s Uncertainty
I’m going to propose something a little radical: I want you to stop trying to find the answers to all your burning questions. Stop trying to find the ONE answer to life’s big questions. Stop looking for the key to happiness. Stop looking for what makes the perfect spouse. Stop looking for the magical weight loss solution. Just take a second and pause.
What I want to offer you is that the answers are not as important as the questions. When we continuously look for the answers in our life, we go under the interpretation that there is only one answer and that the answer is constant. We think there is only one way to have a relationship, one way to lose weight, one way to have more friends.
These examples exemplify the duality of the culture we live in. We need to both ask the right questions and seek the proper answer. Both are important, but, as a society, it appears our focus has shifted towards the short-term immediate answers. As Matthew McConaughey said in a recent interview when discussing his personal journey of discovery,
“I asked all the questions I’d never had to ask myself before. Most I didn’t have the answers to, but in hindsight, the fact that I was asking them for the first time was the reward. I was forced to find out who I was, without any social securities, friends or family around.”
What I’m here to argue is something Matthew McConaughey said so perfectly, which is to live in the question of your life – whatever your specific question is. You will notice as you go through life that the answers will constantly change. So many of us ask ourselves, “how do I lose more weight?” And at one point in your life, it may have been dieting more. At another point, it may be exercising more. At another point it may be about exercising differently. If we focus on the answer, we’ll plateau, but if we focus on the question, we will be malleable to change. The questions don’t change, but the answers do.
The answers to how we can better parent, have a better relationship, lose weight, create more meaningful friendships will always adjust as we grow more into yourself and as others do the same. But focusing on the question will keep us in that state of curiosity. It keeps us seeking while staying intrigued and interested. When one answer doesn’t pan out the way we thought, it doesn’t shake our world up wondering why what worked for our cubicle mate didn’t work for us, but instead it keeps us as scientists wondering what will work.
Constantly searching for the “right” answer keeps us in a state of comparison because it feeds the “one size fits all” paradigm. It makes us think that there is just one answer to life’s big questions. The truth is that there are as many ways as there are human beings in this world and our job is to focus on the multitude of ways, trying out things until they work. And when they stop working, trying new things.article continues after advertisement
I can’t tell you how many times people will come into therapy stating that they want to “fix” something. Now there is nothing wrong with trying to work on some aspect of your life, but I stress that it’s also important to realize that it’s a process of trial and error because there is no one answer. You know more about you than your therapist, friend, parent, brother, sister, spouse. Everyone else can consult, but you are the CEO of your life and you have to figure out what works for you.
We all may ask the same questions, but we all have different answers. The people in your life are all trying to figure out how to live a better life in some shape or form, but the way they go about it is different than how you may. Stay open. Stay curious. Stay intrigued. Stay compassionate realizing that you may not “figure it out” all at once. Research has suggested that our inability to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity is related to the development of a variety of anxiety disorders (Carleton, 2012).
The truth is that you will be waiting until the day you die for all the answers. As you evolve, so will society, and as both change simultaneously (yet disproportionally), so will your surroundings. What worked 50 years ago doesn’t work today. And what works in 30 years won’t work today. We live in a different society and we have to be mindful of the changes. We can’t let our unwavering search for a destination deprive us of the joy of the journey.