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Embracing the Unknown
Living by certainty may seem to give you one path, but it will actually be blinding you to other opportunities.
30 January, 2021

The unknown can be something that people are very afraid of – there are many books, podcasts, and documentaries based on the ‘fear of the unknown’. People like to know what is happening in their lives, because it helps them remain within their comfort zones. However, there is a fine line between having too much certainty and having anxiety. It was a long journey for me to realize that, in order to have the life that you desire, the first thing to do is to remove any fear of uncertainty. When you allow yourself to be uncertain about things, you attract more variety into your life. When you attract more variety into your life, more opportunities will come along, because you are giving permission for more doors to open.

          What would you do if you could do or be anything, money was not an issue, and you knew you couldn’t fail?

We all love certainty, right? For example, we love to know where our money is coming from, and what the outcomes of our decisions are going to be – it takes away a lot of stress. Take my lovely client, Jane. She is committed to being in the same relationship and the same job for the rest of her life, even though it is a really abusive relationship, and her job is going nowhere. So, is certainty always that great? Imagine the magnificent boredom that you would get from having the same routine for the rest of your life!

          When I was younger, I was depressed and could not see a future to look forward to – I used to have panic attacks, and needed to have certainty about every aspect of my life. I needed to know the plan for every second of every day, and couldn’t even let other people hold my phone, for the fear of getting their ‘germs’ and becoming sick. This led to obsessive, compulsive behaviour, and to the decision of seeking help from a cognitive behavioural therapist. As soon as I acknowledged and internalized the simple rule that the best things in life come in surprises (and you can’t have surprises without uncertainty), I was able to embrace a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and therefore open so many doors of opportunities. Before the age of 22, I had started up my own foundation and magazine, given four TED talks, and become an international model and ambassador for self-love. Ironically, I also had to embrace a lot of uncertainty when I gave my Texas TED talk on uncertainty. All of the flights were cancelled from New York due to snowstorms, so I got on the last seat on the last train to Boston (even though there were snow storms there too). Whilst I missed the dress rehearsal, I made it to Texas the night before the TED conference because I had embraced the unknown!

          Your certainty zone is in your head, and people tend to listen to that zone when they are making decisions. But if you always live in your head, you may as well be dead. Living with constant certainty is almost like being imprisoned – you constantly know what the drill is, or what time you are going to eat and sleep. Some people still go to university with one career in mind, but a recent study showed that young people are now likely to have up to fifteen careers in their life. Therefore, living by certainty may seem to give you one path, but it will actually be blinding you to other opportunities.

          So, if embracing uncertainty is so amazing, why do so many people not do it? The simple answer to this is that every decision we make in life is either driven by our desire to get pleasure, or to avoid pain. It is scientifically proven that our need to avoid pain is prioritized over the pursuit of pleasure. Whether or not you believe you are going to succeed, you are right.

You might look at someone like Richard Branson and think that he has all the certainty in the world. He has great businesses, great wealth, and great facial hair! Don’t you think that he has fallen flat on that facial hair a million times along the way? Of course! He has had to embrace so much uncertainty and take so many risks in order to get to where he is today. In fact, Richard Branson was the person who said, ‘you don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.’

          People come up with excuses as to why they cannot achieve their goals. Some say that they don’t have the money, others say that they don’t have the education, and many people say that they don’t have the time. We all have the same amount of hours in a day as Richard Branson, who didn’t even go to university. Therefore, what really stops these excuse-driven people is the fact that they are imprisoned by certainty. There is also a biological basis as to why you have no excuses not to change your behaviour. This is called neuroplasticity. When we train ourselves to behave differently, new branches of axons and dendrites grow within neurons in the brain, either to compensate for lost ones or to rewire our brains to form a new behaviour! This has happened with Paralympians, training themselves to be stronger at sports and blind people, training themselves to hear colours. You can train yourself to behave in any way you want.

          My Mother was set on being a doctor. However, she became an opera singer instead. Twenty years and three children later, she used her story of being an opera singer and gave it a new meaning – to help people sing through their childbirths. She has now been a midwife, businesswoman, and property developer. The reason that she has been able to experience all of these jobs is that she never closed any doors. She never set her mind on one plan and one job in order to fulfill a need for certainty. And my mother is the happiest woman I know. In the same way that you can use your story to redefine who you are, you can also use your story to open up doors for yourself. Sometimes, you have to embrace uncertainty to get the certainty that you want. Sometimes you have to take risks. Anxiety is just anticipation without the excitement.

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