What if I told you the secret to achieving everything you want comes down to one thing? Would you want to know what it is, so you can live the life you always wanted? You’re probably saying, yes but the reality is, most of us aren’t willing to do the one thing every great success story requires: face the unknown.
We want the highlights of life but prefer to bypass the process of discomfort and unfamiliarity. The fear of uncertainty weighs heavier than the excitement of success. We want it until we’re faced with a curveball or unexpected obstacle. We don’t want to admit that going through an unfamiliar process for an unknown amount of time feels scary and distressing. It requires us to trust in what we can’t see, and too often we aren’t able to face our unchartered future without an anxiety spiral or avoidance. This is why we need to rewire our understanding of the unknown. Here’s how:
1. Adjust your perception of planning.
Life will always happen, and no matter how much we plan, we can’t control it. Planning helps us prepare; it puts us in position to be successful. If you have a plan, you always have something to refer back to when the unexpected comes. Planning, however, does not dictate life; it is not the script for how things will go. The more we understand and accept the limitations of our plans, the more we lean into having balanced expectations. Instead of entering the world– as I often have– expecting everything to go according to plan, we can come into each day saying, “This is what I would like to happen, but I’m open to what the day will bring.” The latter puts us in a position of acceptance rather than keeping us in the false sense of control.
Planning does not dictate life; it is not the script for how things will go.
Tip: To shift your mindset, try engaging in one spontaneous activity daily or weekly. It builds your muscle for navigating the unexpected. If you’re a person of faith, start each day by giving your plans to your Higher Power in your morning prayer. This way you can rest comfortably knowing that whatever happens, God got you.
2. Invite in the unknown as a learning experience
We’re often told to lean into discomfort, but we aren’t always informed why. By leaning in, we get to explore; we learn more about ourselves, others, and the perceived fears we hold. If we truly accept that there will always be unforeseen occurrences, we can stop bracing for them and start embracing them for the insight and development they bring us. This could look like catching ourselves in a moment of spiral to say, “This is not what I expected to happen, but I embrace what it is going to show me.”
We can stop bracing for unforeseen occurrences and start embracing them for the insight and development they bring us.
Tip: This will take time. If you are used to spiraling, think about activities that help you expend that energy, so you can get back to exploring what the unknown has to offer. The goal is to continually decrease our spiral time as we grow in this area.
3. Face it and find it’s not so scary
At the end of the day, we must face the unknown if we want to move forward. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s often much bigger in our heads than it is in reality. In our heads, it’s unfathomable and full of unpleasant possibilities, but when we live it out, it’s simply an experience we learn and grow through. You will survive, and you’ll be stronger because of it. There’s no easy way to face the unknown, but two approaches that have worked for me: dipping and diving. You can dip your toe by sitting with discomfort in smaller moments or you can dive all in and figure it out as you go.
You will survive, and you’ll be stronger because of it.
Tip: If you’re a dipper, start by embracing minor opportunities to exercise larger skills. For example if you’re learning to be more direct in professional settings, practice by being more direct at home or with friends about things that may not be that important (such as what you actually do and don’t like about dinner). The more small moments you find to speak up for yourself, the more it becomes a natural skill. On the other hand, if you’re a diver, set up the difficult conversation you need to have. Write out your thoughts beforehand, and go for it. You’ll learn what works and what doesn't and grow from it.
I want to free us from the burden of having to have it all under control: it’s okay to not know, and it’s okay when things drift from the plan. Drifting from our plans means drifting into divine hands. Next time our work project is not coming together as planned, someone sends a text with unfavorable news, or our schedule gets thrown off and delayed, we can ground ourselves in this truth: it’s okay; it’s under divine advisement. Or, in the words of the viral video: “It’s above me now.” Rest in that, and move forward courageously.