Embracing the unknown unknowns

March 15, 2011 § 17 Comments

Sometimes, when I am at my most panicky, Robert will take my hand and soothe me saying, “Baby, we can’t panic about the unknown unknowns. We don’t even know what they are!” He is the incredibly faithful optimist–and not naively so. No, my husband is an optimist in the very best way. He is logical and practical enough to know that plans fall through, hopes often give way to disappointment, and nothing is ever perfectly executed. But he still believes that the outcome will be worth the attempt.

This is where we differ.

I constantly tell him that I wish I could just see into the future, or better, have my future self a la Marty McFly zip over to me on a hoverboard and tell me what I need to do to ensure utter lifelong joy. What’s the fun in that? You might wonder. That’s a fair thing to wonder. My answer: I like knowing! (I think this comes as no surprise to anyone else who has ever met me even for a moment….)

I have racked up several blog entries at this point on just how very confused I am–indeed, there’s an entire category of them, which you are welcome to peruse. And if there’s anything that the entries in this category will show you, it is that I do not like the unknowns.

What am I going to do with myself after graduation? I dunno.

Will we have enough money for our big, grown-up expenses (like a new car, a house, a family)? I dunno.

How will I contribute to the so-called “combined income” of this household? I dunno.

How much will I contribute to the so-called “combined income” of this household? I dunno.

How long will be my full-time unpaid job be to search for salaried full-time jobs? I dunno.

How long will we go in this state of uncertainty? I dunno.

What state will we be in when we come out of the uncertainty? I dunno.

See, folks, these are the unknowns. These are the actual questions I can ask myself because I am aware that there will be answers for them at some point in the unknown future. But then, there are the unknown unknowns, the things that I don’t even know I don’t know. I can’t ask questions for these unknown unknowns because I don’t know enough about the unknowns in order to develop those questions in the first place (and then they wouldn’t be unknown unknowns, would they?).

This is what I struggle with: not knowing what I don’t know. I guess I can handle it if I know the question and not the answer. But to know that there is some mysterious other question I will be or should be asking myself and not to know the answer to that unknown question is terrifying.

And it’s in the midst of these anxiety-provoking thoughts that I remind myself: A.Hab., your life did not come with a roadmap…neither did anyone else’s!

All you other people who I admire and look to as examples of got-it-together-ness, I envy your ability to hold things together (or at least to hold together the appearance of holding it together) in the face of possessing absolutely no roadmap. How do you do it?

I’ll tell you how I attempted to do it this past weekend. When extended family members came up to me to ask me how my dissertation and degree were going, when I planned to graduate, and what I intended to do with my life, I tried very hard to smile (with my mouth and my eyes, thankyouverymuch Tyra Banks!), and say with pretended confidence, “I’m halfway through my dissertation, I will graduate on August 6th, and I think I’d like to give teaching a break for a while, go into editing or working with theaters in an educational function.” I must have convinced them because frequently, conversations would turn to, “Oh! How interesting!” And then we’d move on from there. I found no resistance, no judgment, no admonitions about what I waste I had made of my life. It was oddly…rewarding.

Look, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I just don’t. Some days I think I could probably not hate teaching. Then other days I remember that it’s not the classroom-time I don’t like. Then other days I think about all the options that are out there (maybe I should work in a library, or maybe I should tell people what’s wrong with their documents so they don’t embarrass themselves, or maybe I should find another way to tickle my educational urges). And there are so many more options than the ones I’ve rattled off here…I don’t know what the options are (unknown!), but I’m determined to find out. And any assistance to that end would be greatly appreciated, seriously.

Here’s what I’m getting at, though: maybe if I can just take a deep breath, stop fixating on the unknown unknowns (the poor residents of Japan on Thursday the 10th, for instance, did not know that they did not know that their lives would be in ruins on Friday the 11th), then maybe I can at least prepare myself for the eminent unknowns as best as is humanly possible while maintaining sanity. (And my deepest and sincerest condolences go out to those in Japan who were affected by Friday’s horror-storms that were the earthquake, aftershocks, resultant tsunamis and potential radiation exposure. You couldn’t have done anything to prepare, and I hope that you’ll forgive me the absolutely disproportionate example.)

So, I pose my question again to my readers: how do we break free from the cycle of fear-based living and instead embrace the unknown unknowns?

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§ 17 Responses to Embracing the unknown unknowns

  • Sarah says:

    Amanda the Pretty! I have been reading your blog for a few weeks, since it was posted to facebook, and I just wanted you to know that I miss you!
    I know you will make good decisions about your future and your are so brilliant, there is no way you cannot have an excellent life.
    And, to answer your question, I don’t think it is possible to fully break free from being afraid of the future unknown. But I do know that, known or not, the future comes…and I find some comfort knowing that I have as much control over the future as I do the present. I can only do what can be done and no more. And that is my answer to that! 🙂

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Aw, hi Sarah the Queen(e)!! 😀 I am so excited that you’ve been reading! Thanks for leaving a comment, too. 🙂

      You’re right–I will have an excellent life, doing…whatever it is that I will end up doing, lol. And I love the idea that you should only focus on doing what you can do and nothing else. Takes a lot of pressure off. I mean, I know I can meet my responsibilities, so that might just have to be good enough! 🙂 Thanks for the great reminder!

  • Lisa Kramer says:

    Amanda, the unknown is scary. I know and understand. But, if I have learned anything this past few years of living life with the unknown is that being open to the unknown also leaves you open to possibilities. I have faith that you will discover some incredible possibilities if you just focus on what you need to do now and try not to focus on the future. I don’t know if that helps . . . take deep breathes and focus on what you need to do to finish, face the unknowns when they come.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      That’s a great point, Lisa! I should be open to any and all possibilities. 🙂 It could be that limiting my scope on the future is what landed me here in the first place. Time to embrace those unknowns! 🙂 Thanks, Lisa!

  • 9lb says:

    This is off-topic from your blog, but I wanted to respond to your response to my blog, and I wanted to be sure that you would see it. (I’m still kinda new to this blogging thing…)

    I’m so glad you shared that with me. I suspected that there were other people out there who had similar struggles, so it was good (well, bad I guess,) to hear that you’d gone through some similar things. It really helped me a lot to read what you went through; it also made me feel less weird to know that another sane woman had some of the same thoughts and reactions that I have often had. It’s strange to post something like I did because people, I assume, would just expect that I want attention, or that it is a cry for help. Really, I just wanted to get everything off my chest and let people know that I have some issues. Keeping things like that a secret for so long just sucks! P.S. I miss seeing you!

    • Mrs. H. says:

      You are so not weird. 🙂 I was reading this website (http://www.versatilephd.com), and on the forum someone had posted recently about completing the PhD and depression. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of support this guy got like in just a couple of hours. I don’t know if they did this for your orientation or not, but for one of mine, I remember that a representative from the student counseling services came to speak to all the new graduate students. He basically said, without any humor whatsoever: here’s our phone number, here’s where we’re located, and you’ll probably want to keep that information handy because you’ll be needing us. At that moment, I kind of laughed and shook my head at how upfront they were about it. And yet…about a semester and a half later, I was giving them a call and setting up my first appointment. (I kept having really bad suicidal “fantasies”…”daydreams”…whatever right around the end of my MA comps.)

      I think that in many ways, anxiety, depression, all of that sort of go hand-in-hand with academia. We’re often completing rather isolated (and isolating) projects, studying our butts off, and having to put our “real” lives on hold. (Or, I guess, that’s the ideal grad student.) I miss seeing you, too. I’m going to send out an e-mail soon (like…in the next couple of days) to see if anyone is interested in getting together sometime for a girls’ night. Maybe we can see each other soon! 🙂

  • […] even in the blogosphere, people are becoming overwhelmed by the unknown, as I was reminded reading A. Hab’s post […]

  • Taochild says:

    I have not had the pleasure of you words before. I was pointed this way from my sister’s recent post (Lisa from Woman Wielding Words). I know she has similar fears, and feel my reply to her might work here as well. This is what I said to her recent post:

    “One of the values of living in the moment is that the unknown no longer has as much power over you. By fully embracing the moment, you know what can be known, because you are directly experiencing it. Thus you only need to face the unknown one small bit at a time, as each new moment unfolds before you, and it is much easier to make choices about where to put your feet next.”

    To expand a little, knowledge in a way is limiting. Knowledge implies to more to learn; no more growth possible. While yes there is comfort in knowledge of the future, isn’t the joy of life partly in the discovering of the new? My thoughts anyway. Hope it helps a little…

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Welcome to the blog, Taochild! 🙂 I saw your response to Lisa’s post this morning. And I think you’re so right–there’s such a thing as preparation, but obsessing over it to the point where there’s no wiggle room for unknown possibilities really does suck the joy out of life. I’m still a little hesitant to get excited about not knowing what to expect every single day…but I’ll learn! 🙂 Thanks for your insightful comment!

  • Tori Nelson says:

    You know what helped me? Having a baby COMPLETELY at the wrong time. To have a child before you are married in the south is horrible, not to mention my idea of maturity was still tossing the milk out around the date it expired. But I had him, did the next right thing, next right thing, next right thing, and before I knew it I was marching through the unknown and LOVING it. I can proudly say today that I have NO idea what I’m doing, and I’m totally fine with it!

    • Lisa Kramer says:

      We all need to be a little more like you Tori!

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Lisa took the words right out of my mouth! 🙂

      You’re one of those got-it-together people I mention in the blog, Tori. And it turns out that you’re actually someone who holds together the appearance of holding it together. I will one day learn to be like you! 🙂 Maybe I’ll approach this new, post-graduation world with the attitude of doing the “next right thing.” I love that concept! 🙂

  • […] This current ramble is a direct result of  two postings on other blogs (What Happens Next? and Embracing the unknown unknowns). Both were talking about fear of the future and the difficulty of dealing with the unknown. Which […]

  • charlywalker says:

    Have you tried a Psychic???

    spread the humor: charlywalker.wordpress.com

  • […] what people-pleasing is….] I want to be seen as someone who has her ducks all in a row and can hold everything together effortlessly. I don’t want anyone to have a reason to judge me. I want to be the kind of person that I see […]

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