The Opportunity in Uncertainty
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
You know the feeling of getting really good at something? This can show up particularly in a work situation. Usually, we start out unsure- overwhelmed by all the new information, acronyms, systems, and expectations of our positions...and end up finding ways to thrive and excel in our work. Eventually, we're offered opportunities to train others, and by teaching others we solidify our knowledge. We become someone that others look to when they have questions or need help navigating a system we know "like the back of our hand".
And sometimes we get so good that we're offered a promotion. Or we come to the realization that our current job is no longer challenging, fulfilling, or fun. We seek out new opportunities, other experiences and roles.
We bravely step forward, and take on more- more responsibility, greater expectations, and (hopefully) more money. This is exciting! Thrilling- we are being recognized for our efforts, our hard work, skill, and talent.
And in this new role, we discover that we know...nothing. Despite years of learning and training and leading others, we are right back in that shaky place of not knowing. Of being overwhelmed and unsure.
Sometimes we start to question ourselves- did I really know what I was doing back there? Maybe I was just really good at faking it. Maybe I was just good at that one thing and should not have been stupid enough to think I could do more. I knew it- I totally suck! I'm incompetent and a fraud. Now everyone will see the real me and what a waste I am...
Here is the crossroads where creative folks have the opportunity to pause.
We find ourselves inhabiting a space referred to in Buddhist practice as Beginner's Mind:
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." ~ Suzuki
While the instinct may be to attack ourselves, or deny and resist the pain of no longer being in control or being the expert, instead we can acknowledge that we are in a place of possibility.
And here's the uncomfortable truth:
in order to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow, to change, to learn new things, we have to be brave enough to stand in a place of vulnerability, of not knowing, uncertainty.
The same can be said of creativity: the process of creativity moves from order to chaos and into a new order - one that is hopefully more integrated, and offers greater insights and awareness than the previous one.
Because the truth is, we will come to this crossroads countless times throughout our lives. In learning a new role at work, navigating a new relationship, becoming a parent, moving to a new city, mastering a new skill.
We will be faced, again and again, with our own vulnerability. All the tools we have acquired to fix the old problems are suddenly useless. These new problems require different tools, unfamiliar materials, strange contortions.
The creativity and courage required is tremendous...and the reward is the visceral understanding that we have within us everything we need to move forward. Open, unafraid, and unsure.
It is only by moving into this new, uncertain place that we can see ourselves as we are- beneath the layers of acquired knowledge, skill, and talent we find an inherent wisdom, an unshakable calm, a core of strength we would not otherwise discover.
I would argue that we find ourselves in a position now- in the middle of a global pandemic, with protests for racial justice happening nationally, and millions of us continuing to shelter at home- where we are in this creative process.
We have moved from the calm, ordered life that we knew into a time of upheaval, chaos, and uncertainty.
We are beginning to acknowledge that the old ways of doing things- personally, professionally, nationally and globally, may no longer work. This is an overwhelming, exhausting, and challenging place to be. As well as a place of real opportunity- If we can be vulnerable enough to start again, to acknowledge we are all beginners here. And the tools we've used to solve old problems will not help us. We need both our individual and collective creativity and courage to move forward.