I don't know what next year will bring, let alone next month, next week, tomorrow, or even the next hour. Any second now things could go in a million different directions. This is a central truth.
But truth or not, this can be frightening, making us spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about the uncertainty that's just around the corner. We distract ourselves with scenarios of the future that rarely, if ever, happen the way we imagine. We waste time predicting a conversation, when we can never really know how anyone else will react. We spin our wheels with supposedly strategic (but usually stupid) decisions in a futile attempt to control the future.
Recently, I went on a desolate sunrise hike in Joshua Tree National Park and found myself being extra cautious, something I’m sure my mom will be happy to hear. The primary physical threat in the desert is the rattlesnake, but there are also scorpions, spiders, coyotes, and I have this theory about angry big horn sheep. Another threat is the nature of the trail itself, rocky, steep, and arduous, with dangerous cliffs that demand thoughtfulness with each step.
But more than any of those threats was the fact that I was totally alone - during the 3 hours I spent on this mountain (2 hiking and 1 writing this blog) I saw not a single soul, not on the trail or on the park road below. Coming from my usually crowded stomping grounds of Griffith Park, in the middle of urban Los Angeles, this was unnerving. I have never felt that alone on a trail anywhere in all my hundreds of hiking miles.
I had a choice, I could give away any of the benefits I might reap from the hike to the fear of a rattlesnake ambush or a cliff diving misstep, both scenarios leaving me to die alone on this desert island. Or I could be as prepared as possible, like carrying a snake bite kit and staying aware of my footing, and then choose to accept the uncertainty, stay present, and enjoy the stunning desert sunrise happening all around me.
Make no mistake, the future will do what it wants to. Sure, you have a hand in it - everything you do in the present is part of what makes up your future. But no matter how much you plan and scheme, the future will bring you to shockingly unexpected places.
Even the brawniest boulder can be cracked over time.
Even the most imposing tree can be decimated by a single lightening strike.
Even the best laid path can be washed out by a freak monsoon.
I'm starting to feel like all this uncertainty that I worry about, that you probably worry about too, isn’t something to fear, but something to celebrate. You can and should prepare yourself to your best ability - shoot for the stars, make plans, improve your life, seriously go for it - but in the end you have to just let the future be, because it will actually be what it will be no matter how much fretting you do in the meantime.
Hold on to the uncertainty. Revel in the mystery and astonishment of life. Take calculated risks. Go with the unfamiliar. Move forward with each step confidently, and remember that around every corner there may or may not be a something to fear, but there will most definitely be new view that coud be even more beautiful than the last.
I’m so grateful for uncertainty, life would be totally boring otherwise.
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