“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.” ~Ursula K. Le Guin
Did you play with cootie catchers as a kid?
You picked a number and watched anxiously as your friend counted it out. Open. Close. Open. Close.
You chose a color or picture or word and waited in anticipation as your friend unfolded the flap and read your destiny.
Or how about that MASH game? Mansion, apartment, shack, house?
I played these games with an insatiable desire for all the details.
How is all of this going to play out?
Where will I live?
What will become of me?
I was fascinated with details, and anyone who could supply them. Fortune cookies, horoscopes, and psychic phone readings all held the promise of telling me exactly what I yearned to know.
Will I be okay?
With time, curiosity gave way to hard-core, type A planning. I’d plan everything out in excruciating detail and get my heart set on one specific outcome.
I’d make a deal with the cosmos. Everything will be okay if it turns out just like this, okay? Okay.
I craved certainty and the illusion of control.
The answer “surprise me,” made me uncomfortable. Playing it by ear was torturous. Penciling it in felt like the easy way out.
I’ve made a lot of plans along the way: graduation plans, wedding plans, birth plans, career plans. Yet, no matter how painstakingly crafted these plans were, I was always a little surprised with where I ended up.
My actual wedding dress was nothing like the pictures I collected with friends in high school.
My thirty-eight-hour, two epidural labor was nothing like my 100 percent all natural birth plan.
My house in Arizona is nothing like the one I’d dreamed of having in Northern California.
And I’ve been okay.
Okay, universe. I get the message.
It’s not really about the details.
We can make the best of difficult times, rising up after we’ve been dragged through the muck. We can surprise ourselves with what it turns out we actually want. And we can rain all over our own parades.
The details are delicious, though.
It’s so satisfying to make a list and check things off. It feels so good that sometimes we’ll even write down the things we’ve already done. And there’s something so soothing about having the who, what, when, and where sorted out.
Best of all is knowing that the whole plan is exactly, perfectly the way you want it. It’s positively intoxicating.
The only trouble is that the details hardly ever turn out as planned.
This whole attachment to details thing is getting harder as time goes on. At a time when I most want to know if we’ll all be okay, I suddenly can’t figure the details out. Maybe I’ve lost my touch, or maybe the plans are getting more complicated.
There are so many more variables and people involved now. Where it was once just me and my cats, there’s now me, my husband, my children, our families, old friends and new friends, employers, clients, school systems, licenses, and a mortgage to consider.
With each new piece comes countless questions. So many, in fact, that I can’t even picture what all of this is going to look like.
That’s got to be okay.
I’m learning to accept that I’ll be okay if I don’t know the details because I know how I want to feel and what I want to leave room for in my life.
As much as we’d like to take credit for them, the details are often things that just present themselves when they’re good and ready to be seen, anyway. They tend to sort themselves out in ways that we never could have planned.
We take one step, then another. We prepare the best we can with what we know, knowing how we want to feel when it’s all said and done. Then we reassess along the way.
Part of me really wants to fight that because it still believes that having all the answers now will guarantee that everything will be okay. Maybe it’s time to start having a little more trust that I’ll find a way to be okay no matter what happens.
The more comfortable I get with letting the details reveal themselves when the time is right, the more aware I am of all the people who want to know the plan right now.
They want to know when you’re visiting or moving back to your hometown or having your next child or finally graduating or asking for that raise.
They ask all kinds of detailed questions about your plan, so much so that it can leave you feeling ashamed for not having figured it out.
I get it, too.
People want to feel closer to you or important or useful. They want to be heard.
Maybe they’re kind of nosy. Or bossy. Or maybe they’re bored.
Maybe they just really care and want to solve what they think is a problem for you.
And maybe they also have a deal with the cosmos that everything will be okay if…
I get it because I’ve been them. I’ve interrogated, and I’ve demanded answers. Even after understanding that I can’t have absolute certainty (or control), I’ve been that person squeezing out the details before it’s time.
Understanding is different from knowing deep in your bones that you’ll be okay no matter what.
When you know, you live and breathe it. Instead of seeking control, you seek clarity. Instead of certainty, you seek courage.
When you know the truth, you also know that it’s supposed to be a little scary to look out into the uncertain future. It’s unnerving to say, “Here goes nothing.”
It takes courage to walk into the future knowing that you don’t have all the details nailed down. Your next step may be right, it may be wrong, it may lead you nowhere, and people may think you’re crazy, but you have to take it at some point.
The truth is, no one ever really knows how it’s all going to look, but you probably have a good idea of how you want to feel and what’s most important to you. And if you don’t, maybe that’s why the details are so elusive.
(But all the same, you don’t need the details.)
You don’t need to see the details to trust that you’ll figure them out when the time is right, and you don’t need to see your path to know in your heart that it’s there waiting for you to take that step.
You don’t need to know exactly how every piece will play out to know what the most important pieces are.
And you don’t need absolute certainty to know that you’ll find a way to be okay no matter what happens.
I’m not saying, “Let’s all throw caution to the wind from now until forever.” Make plans, yes, but there’s no need to obsess over the details if the details aren’t clear. Meet planning with flexibility and trust. Be curious about what happens next, not controlling.
So go ahead, daydream, plan, manifest, make a vision board, or whatever calls to you. Just remember to begin from living and breathing the truth: that you will find a way to be okay no matter what.
I have no idea where I’ll be working five years from now, what our house will look like, what we’ll do on the weekends, if I’ll have lost the baby weight, or if I’ll dye my greys, but I do trust myself to make the call when the time is right.
I don’t know all the when’s, where’s, or even how’s, but I do know how I want to feel and what I hold nearest to my heart.
I want to feel light, energized, and free.
I want to find meaning in my work.
I want to be home in time for dinner.
I want to create space for contemplation and creativity.
I think I’ve had enough of the heaviness that comes from dragging around a lifetime of plans. It’s too much pressure, and even the most carefully made plans might change in the end.
I still make plans, and I’m not throwing my bullet journal away any time soon. I’m just not letting my fear that I won’t be okay or that I’ll choose wrong or that people will disapprove suck the life out of living any more.
So go ahead, universe. Surprise me. I’ll be okay no matter what.
About Leslie Ralph
Leslie writes at A Year of Happy where she combines her years of training and practice as a psychologist with the lessons she’s still learning as a working mom. Each month, she tackles a new topic inspired by life as a mom, positive psychology, and meditation. Stop by to download your free two-minute revitalizing meditation.