Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that the willingness to stand still in the middle of uncertainty without giving in to despair allows for new opportunities to show up and gives you the space you need to notice them. [If you focus on fears and doubts, there really is no room in your head for paying attention when a new door opens.]
Apple founder Steve Jobs had an interesting take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life. He suggested using the ultimate uncertainty, death, to get past the fears and doubts you are likely to encounter during times of change.
Jobs has been quoted as saying, “All external expectations, all fear of embarrassment and failure – all these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”
This is, I think, a profound thought, and it is probably the best (and the most difficult) way I know of dealing with “standing in ambiguity” – the whole uncertainty of just living your life, making plans and executing them, having goals and realizing them, and so forth and so on.
WHAT IT IS AND WHY DO IT?
“Standing in ambiguity” equates, I think, with poet John Keats’ “negative capability,” which he describes as “when a person is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason….”
Wise guys through the ages have tried to get us to just sit with the uncertainty, feel the feelings, understand why they are welling up in us, and then step away from those feelings and look at where we can make our next move. After that we can take the next step, then the next one, and so on until we get to a new place that feels more comfortable for us.
But, uncertainty and ambiguity is never an easy space to be in.
So then there’s this question: If it makes us so uncomfortable, why would we even go there?
One answer is that it is in this space that Creativity happens. All that discomfort produces new ways of looking at things, change-making moves, and products never seen before. (It also produces a lot of crazy people…but that’s another story.)
Here’s a short YouTube video, “Embrace Ambiguity,” by IDEO.org, an organization that works with nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations to design solutions for social impact around the world. It explains some of the benefits of standing in ambiguity that creative people can use.
CULTURAL AMBIGUITY TOLERANCE
How much ambiguity you can tolerate is a personal thing. Each person has his or her own level of tolerance. The same is true for different cultures.
This YouTube video by Mary Rowland explains about the “ambiguity tolerance” of different cultures and what it means to you in practical, nuts-and-bolts fashion.
(I’m not sure who Mary Rowland is. I couldn’t find anything about her on Google and her other YouTube offerings are not particularly helpful. Still, this video is a lovely schmooze about an important topic. Thanks, Mary Rowland…whoever you are.)
If your own ambiguity tolerance doesn’t match that of your culture, it’s quite likely that there will be friction. If your own high ambiguity tolerance clashes with your culture’s lack of tolerance for ambiguity, you’ll have to deal with being labeled as a troublemaker or a ne’er-do-well. If your ambiguity tolerance is low and you’re in a culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity, then you might be labeled as a ‘fraidy-cat, a worry-wort, or even a coward.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to work with your culture’s level of tolerance for ambiguity as well as your own. If the mismatch is too great, then perhaps you will need to go find a more supportive environment for yourself. This, of course, will add to all the uncertainty.
JUST DO IT
Another take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life is in this YouTube video by Bob Miglani who exhorts, “Dealing With Uncertainty? Stop Waiting. Move Forward and Embrace the Chaos.”
(Bob Magliani is the author of EMBRACE THE CHAOS: How India Taught Me To Stop Overthinking and Start Living. In 2012, it was a Washington Post bestseller. In it Magliani addresses how to deal with facing major uncertainty and stop doing the deer-in-the-headlights freeze. He tells you that you have to let go of trying to control the chaos all around you and focus, instead, on what you can control — your own actions and your words and thoughts. An interesting read.)
The irony in all of this is that standing in ambiguity is…well…ambiguous and also very personal. There are no final answers, no right or wrong way to do it. There is only you and what you feel you can or must do.
About a year after my husband died, this poem came. It was a signal to me that I was ready again to turn around and face future.
After Fred died and the world I knew changed, I was very lost. One of the first steps was getting through the grieving intact and through the acceptance and letting go. And then there was the learning how to stand up strong in the middle of a heck of a lot of ambiguity.
When you’re already naked and the illusions in which you used to dress the world have all melted and dribbled away, when you no longer have anything obscuring your look into the Void, it does tend to free you up to do lots of other things.
I went and did a lot of other things. Many of them turned out pretty okay.
I CAN TELL YOU GOODBYE
I can tell you goodbye now
And mean it, in my heart of hearts.
Your passing nearly killed me,
The pain squeezing me into
An otherness that whimpered
Helplessly against the loss
Of you and of the world
I thought I knew.
What is it somebody said?
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional….”
Something like that.
I decided not to suffer.
I don’t know what I’m doing
And no ultimate answer rises up,
No banner or signpost
To show me where to go.
I am lost in ambiguity,
Lost in the illusions
That keep swirling
Through this shadow-play.
And I cannot find my way
Back to the surety
I once knew.
You’re the one who was sure.
I thought you knew the way.
I only had to follow you.
Then you left me
Standing lost on this
And the world has changed
And changed and changed.
No visible landmarks –
All gone, along with you.
And your assurance that all of this is real.
You lied to me.
(Or maybe it was only to yourself.)
You were so sure that
I believed you.
I followed your lead
Because I thought I had no
Guidelines of my own.
And now I have to make them up,
All by myself, all over again.
Every day I make it all up.
It’s been good, you know.
I like it just fine now.
I have to thank you
Even though you brought
So much pain and confusion in your wake.
You taught me about a world
I had not known and made me
Play to its many faces.
Now I’m going back to what
I used to know,
Richer for having known you.
I loved you the best I could.
You loved me too, I know.
Good-bye, ei nei,
It was all good.
by Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: Sunrise by blese via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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