As we prepare to head into the New Year, it is of course common tradition that we reflect back on the year that is coming to a close. We see all of the “Best of” lists of 2011, we revisit the most prominent news stories, both good and bad, and we think about all that we have accomplished and that which we did not get a chance to do. With that knowledge, we then prepare to set our intentions for the coming year ahead. As I look back on 2011 and prepare to head into 2012, the one word that comes to mind is… UNCERTAINTY.
The entire planet is gripped with a high degree of uncertainty at the moment. We’ve seen governments collapse all over the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring, and now we wait with bated breath to see what will happen next, which will be the next country to collapse, and if the ones that have will manage to form any kind of cohesive, effectual governments. We’ve seen economic systems crumble, and take down intrinsically linked economies with them. We watch on pins and needles hoping to avoid a domino effect across the globe. As the year draws to a close we wait with nervous trepidation to see what will come of the recent news in North Korea and Iran. The world is filled with anxiety and fear at the level of uncertainty that exists.
While we see this uncertainty on a macro level, I’m also seeing it all around me on a micro level, in the daily lives of friends and family all around me. 2011 has been a year of massive shifting and transition. So many people have lost their jobs (myself included!), others have gone through divorces, others have ended long-term relationships or begun new ones, and still others have made monumental shifts in their lifestyles: changes of career, changes of location, even changes of purpose. Many have also been shifting on an esoteric level, accessing new levels of consciousness not before experienced.
I have so many friends that are presently living through intense periods of uncertainty, not having any idea what the future will hold or which way to go next. And with that comes the expected confusion, anxiety and even panic. After all, we are human. It is in our nature to fear the unknown. In my own life, so many questions remain: When will I again have an income? How will I pay my next rent check? Will I ever find love? Will I end up alone? These questions are very real for me. But am I filled with the inevitable dread and angst that would typically accompany such uncertainty? The answer is “no.” And here is why: While it is our human nature to fear the unknown, that which we cannot see, know or understand, I have realized that this is one of our many human frailties. The truth is that uncertainty is simply a disguise, albeit a sometimes scary one, for OPPORTUNITY.
When I look back on my own life, I am able to see that every period of uncertainty through which I lived, inevitably led to a much greater opportunity than I could have possibly imagined. The first period that comes to mind was 1997-1998, my first year out of college. I was living in Boston and was working at my first “real” job. I hated it. I was miserable. I counted the days…literally. But I had no idea what to do or where to go next. I was applying for jobs everywhere, but as is often the case with recent college grads, I lacked the experience to get my foot in the door at most places. And frankly I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I did all I knew how to do… I followed my bliss.
I had studied abroad in Spain and was passionate about foreign cultural exchange as an incredible opportunity for growth and empowerment. So I began pursuing any job related to foreign exchange programs, international educational travel, etc. Then one day, after a year of searching, BOOM, it happened. I landed the dream job. I spent the next five years organizing student educational travel to Spain and Latin America and traveled to both places frequently. I had landed exactly where I was meant to be.
Fast forward to the year 2004. I had moved to Washington, DC to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs. Though it was certainly not what I had planned, almost as soon as I arrived I knew I was in the wrong place. It did not take me long to realize I was not a bureaucrat, so I shifted gears and dropped out of graduate school. Here I was having left the job I loved in Boston, but I knew I couldn’t go back. That life was over. I could only go forward. But where to? I had no idea. Once again, I began a long and arduous job search, really having no idea what I was looking for, but simply trying to apply for any job that fit the skills I had gained in my previous position. But I had some pressure on me. I knew that I would run out of money by that August, so I would have to find a job before then. And what if I didn’t? I had no idea what would happen then. I was in the tight grip of uncertainty….Until, low and behold I found a job on August 23rd, my first job in the dot-com world and the job that put me on the path towards a successful management career. Once again, a period of deep uncertainty had led to nothing but incredible opportunity.
And then there was the “dark night of the soul,” from the years 2007-2009. Not only were these the darkest, most painful years of my life, they were by far the most uncertain. I had left my stable management job in DC to move across the country, in part to fight for love. Well as we all know, life does not always go as we plan. Instead I found myself rejected, abandoned, jobless and friendless and about to enter a protracted period of unemployment and instability in correlation with the recession that was about to hit. During this period I went from being unemployed, to working at a minimum wage job, to finally landing a stable job, to in the end being laid off and unemployed AGAIN. Nothing had gone right. My life was completely stagnant and uncertain. I had no idea what to do or which way to go. I was lost…and I was terrified. The future looked anything but bright.
But as many of you know from reading my previous stories, those intense years of uncertainty would eventually give birth to opportunities and adventures I never could possibly have imagined. That job that laid me off eventually led me to another dot-com management job in San Francisco, and it was the dramatic unraveling of that job that surprisingly and unimaginably led me to the unexpected life that I am living now: the life of a writer.
So what is the lesson in this? Well, I have learned that although on the surface uncertainty is very scary, in reality, at its core it is anything but. Uncertainty is an opportunity. It is the freedom to try new things, it is a blank palette on which to paint anything you want, it is a chance to think outside the box and dare to try things that your previous limitations would never have allowed you to try. But beyond that, if we can not only sit with and accept uncertainly, but if we can take it one step further and truly embrace uncertainty, that is when the true expansion happens and the possibilities become endless. When we can surrender and allow ourselves to sink into the uncertainty, to become one with it and trust in its purpose; and when we allow ourselves to be not only excited, but ecstatic about the possibilities that exist in the unknown, that is when the Universe will respond and bring magic into our lives.
So yes, there are many questions that still remain in my life, and I do not know what the future will hold. But I can tell you I am nothing but excited and elated about what will come. And I know that this period of uncertainty, like all of the others that have come before it, will lead to nothing but incredible circumstances and surprises ahead. I know that the possibilities are endless. And as I look at all of the friends around me who are living through tough periods of uncertainty, and as I think about all of you readers out there who I know are living through the same, I have one message for you: Congratulations. You are the lucky ones!
As you prepare to head into 2012, look not at the limitations in your life. But instead look at the possibilities. Do not fear uncertainty, instead embrace it. And as you set your New Year’s Resolutions, don’t limit yourself to the hopes and dreams you have now. Open yourself up to the ones you haven’t yet dared to imagine.
This post is dedicated to Diana C., Adriana Z. and Kristina L. May you dare to dream…