Living with uncertainty is an emotional quicksand, the cold hand of anxiety grabbing you in the gut. And yet it’s an unavoidable part of life: we ought, by rights, to arrive on this earth with an inbuilt way of handling it. From world affairs to 2017’s hottest-tipped Oscar-nominated movie, uncertainty is all around: La La Land is a light, pretty musical, but actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone also deliver a study in the pain of unknowing. Will their characters’ passion to succeed in Hollywood – Mia’s for acting, Sebastian’s for jazz – be worth the sacrifice? How might they cope if one gets the big break and the other flounders? Can their romance possibly survive their separate struggles to the top? And will whatever inevitable loss occurs be worth the gain?
In reality, as on screen, love and work are punctuated by guesses, gambles and choices. Impatiently, we push for some pay-off, any pay off, even though, as the old Benjamin Franklin adage goes, there are only two certainties, death and taxes. Every life stage involves an act of faith over foregone conclusion: Will the student’s degree be worth the debt? Will these marriage vows hold good? Will a pregnancy go well, or even happen? How long before I land another job? Anyone who’s endured the wait for medical test results knows what Dr Brene Brown author of Daring Greatly, means when she describes it as ‘falling down the rabbit hole of terror’. Some people convince themselves of bad news that hasn’t even befallen, because any certainty is better than the vulnerability of none. Isn’t that why Shakespeare’s Othello killed his innocent Desdemona without pausing to probe the truth of her alleged infidelity? Others canvas everyone they know for advice about anything from buying a dress to ending a relationship – and even then remain doubtful about what to do.
Better than begging everyone in your address book to make up your mind for you, says Dr Brene Brown, is to have one or two trusted friends remind you that it’s natural to feel vulnerable in a period of change. To thrive amid uncertainty you need to focus not on what others think, but on your own intuition and inner voice. Getting through such times she says ‘is about faith and self-trust — believing that whatever happens, you’ll find a way through it.’ You can raise your self confidence by remembering past occasions when you toughed out the challenge of uncertainty. Try to access the resilience you used before and view this as a necessary stage in getting where you want to go. Find ways to calm and care for yourself at times when everything seems in doubt, and remind yourself that they will pass. Clarity will emerge. As the Sundays’ song says ‘Though I can’t be sure what I want any more/It will come to me later.’
Many unhappy couples pondering the future of their relationship feel endlessly stuck without resolution in a state that Mira Kirshenbaum’s book of that name calls ‘Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay.’ At any one time, she says, one fifth of US couples can’t decide whether to remain or leave. They’ve doubtless tried rating the pros and cons of togetherness but this ‘balance/scale approach only reinforces indecision. It fails, Kirshenbaum explains, because you’re trying to weigh what you know about your relationship right now against a huge question-marked future. More helpful is to think about the best times you had as a couple and assess whether there was a ‘happy magic of warmth and connectedness’ or whether, with hindsight, there was always something slightly missing at the core. For the 10 per cent of ‘never very goods’ the prognosis for a great future is poor. A happy Hollywood ending is not assured for all the rest, stresses Kirshenbaum, but it’s an indication to take true stock, with some counselling, before calling time. And talking of Hollywood, if you’re watching the Oscars on February 26th, spare a thought for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Behind the glamour and glitz, they too will surely be battling their own uncertainties – What if, after all this hype, one of us gets the golden glory and the other’s beaten to it? What if my face betrays distress in defeat? What if this is my one lifetime chance here? Even stardust gives no guarantee of certainty. ‘We have no remedy’ as Robinson Crusoe put it ‘but to wait and see.’ ends