Three Ways to Embrace the Unknown

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Most of us have an aversion to the unknown. We're uncomfortable with whatever's unplanned, mysterious, or hidden. A lot of us were raised to believe that things should be known - that if we don't know something already, we need to learn it, measure it, shed light on it, etc. There's an air of desperation behind this belief, and it can drive us to create a false sense of knowing and control through excessive planning and worry. 

But the unknown isn't inherently bad. It's not a problem that we don't know what will happen tomorrow or in five years - it's simply how things are.

All of us are constantly in a state of change, but some of us - especially in the United States - are experiencing massive upheaval. The unknown future can feel grim and scary, and in response, we might cling to old habits or fears that make us feel safe but that actually keep us stuck.

I can share an example from my own life:

I'm about to become a mother, and sometimes that is really fucking scary. For a while, I resisted the change as much as I could - I sort of pretended like I wasn't pregnant, I committed to things I knew I was too tired to do, and I tried to control every aspect of my environment. It got to the point where I was in full-on panic mode because I couldn't pinpoint what life will be like once the little guy or gal is here. Because of my fear of the future, I was clinging to my habits and routine with a white-knuckled death grip.

My brilliant therapist pushed me to consider another way: to actually start doing things that are new.

To try out swimming even though I've never swam a lap in my life (at least not on purpose). To take a nap instead of writing another blog post. To try yoga nidra and ditch my regular morning meditation.

My instinctive brain freaked out at first: "I'm nesting and feeling extremely fragile and you want me to start trying to do things that feel unfamiliar?!"

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

But I trust her, so I did. And you know what? It really helped.

I got a swimsuit that fit my much larger figure and went to the pool for a swim.

I napped.

I did yoga nidra and got lots of insights that my busy mind had been getting in the way of.

I also accepted the fact that motherhood is a great unknown to me and that it's coming - whether I'm ready or not.

I was watching the livestream of an amazing event called Sister Giant the other night, and the organizer, Marianne Williamson, was fielding questions from the audience. A woman stood up and expressed how angry she was that Donald Trump is President. She asked questions like "How could this be?" and "How can I accept the people who voted for him?" I loved Marianne's two-fold response:

First, stop judging and being so self-righteous, because it's getting in the way of your ability to make change in a loving way, and secondly: it's time for us to be adults and accept that this is what's happening.

Embracing the unknown is a very adult thing to do.

We have to grow up and accept that we can't control and plan for everything.

Now, of course this is easier said than done, but it is something we can get better at through practice.

Here are three ways that we can skillfully embrace the unknown:

First, get grounded.

The unknown is much, much scarier when your limbic (instinctive) brain is on hyper-alert for threats in your environment. None of this will work without some sort of meditative or contemplative practice. I've sort of tiptoed around this for years, but I'm done: the point is that you just have to meditate daily, in some form, for any of this to work.

Second, let your inner vision guide you.

Embracing the unknown isn't about not caring what happens in the future. In fact, visualizing outcomes that make you feel the warm and fuzzies is part of what makes the unknown less scary to your brain. Spend time each day imagining things from the end. What do you want out of this job interview? How do you want to feel after getting coffee with that friend? What kind of home do you want to be in next year? For some practice, check out a little recording I did called One Act That Will Transform Your Next Meeting.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Finally, let go of anything that comes from a place of worry or obligation.

Like I said earlier, I was clinging to old habits out of fear - fear that if I let go too much, my world would come crashing down around me. My resistance to this major shift that's happening in my body and in my life manifested as a desire to control every minute of my day. But that meant that my old habits, like my regular meditation practice and other routines, had become stale. I was just doing them on autopilot.

Chances are, we could all use some letting go of old habits and routines. By doing so, we train ourselves to embrace newness and change. We can actually practice embracing the unknown in small, manageable ways that show us that the world is a friendly place.

The unknown isn't our enemy.

It's okay not to know what you'll be doing for work in one, three, or five years. It's okay not to know what the next few months will look like. If you can get yourself grounded, visualize what you want, and then let go of tired old patterns, you'll be well on your way to embracing the mystery.