By Leo Babauta
If you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you might feel a lot of uncertainty all the time – you aren’t sure what your life purpose is, or your uncertain about what path you should take in life.
This is normal.
We all want to know what our driving ambitions should be in life.
We all want to have a certain life purpose.
We all want to feel we’re on the right path.
We all want to perfect our habits, our routines, our productivity.
We all want to feel more certain, and perfect what we’re doing.
The comfort of certainty and perfection vs. the fear of uncertainty and being suboptimal. This is the struggle.
Let me let you in on a secret: no one is free from this struggle. Look at the most successful people you can think of – Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Obama, Taylor Swift. Do you think they have it all figured out? Do you think they have certainty and a feeling of reaching perfection? Not a chance. There is not one of us alive, not me or anyone else, who ever feels certainty about their purpose or path. If they do, they’re fooling themselves. But if they’re honest, they don’t feel that certainty.
No one ever feels they’ve found the perfect productivity routine, the perfect version of themselves … because it doesn’t exist.
With that in mind, I’ll make some recommendations – with the caveat that I haven’t figured all of this out myself, and that I’m uncertain about these recommendations:
- Realize that it’s all uncertainty. When you’re procrastinating, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you can do this). When you are jealous of what others are doing on Instagram, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re getting the most out of life). When you are feeling anxiety, it’s because of uncertainty (about the future). When you’re feeling guilty or bad about yourself, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re a good person, a disciplined person, as good as you can be, etc.). It’s all uncertainty.
- Realize that none of us like this uncertainty. We all feel uncertainty, all day, and we all struggle with it. Some people have grown more comfortable with it than others, but in general no one likes uncertainty. If someone says they do, they’re probably not honest with themselves. We don’t like it, so we try to find certainty in some way – through finding something we’re more comfortable with, something we think we know. Distraction, pleasure food, shopping, alcohol, being surly with other people, shutting down.
- Notice when you’re feeling it. Being aware of this feeling of uncertainty is actually a great skill to develop. As you work on this awareness, you’ll feel uncertainty about your awareness skill. Are you doing it right? Are you bad at it? You don’t know. This is just more uncertainty to be aware of. Just try this: when you feel any anxiety, fear, self-doubt, procrastination, need for distraction, anger with others … just label it “uncertainty.” See if you can tell what you’re being uncertain about.
- Stay with it. This uncertainty you’re feeling is unpleasant. That’s perfectly OK, perfectly normal. Don’t run from it. Instead, stay with this uncomfortable, unappealing uncertainty. It’s here in you, a part of this moment, a part of you but not the whole of you. Just stay, stay. Be with it, like you’d be with a friend who is in tears.
- Turn to the moment, and find the excruciatingly beauty in it. After staying with the uncertainty for awhile, realize that you’re trying to know the unknowable. You can’t know what the perfect path will be, you can’t know what the perfect you should be, you can’t know what your purpose in life is until it starts to uncover itself. You can’t know your destination until you get there. So instead of spinning your wheels with the unknowable, focus on what you actually have right in front of you. Look at the physical space around you, and feel the energy of this space. This includes the energy of what you’re feeling inside you, but also the fluid space around you, occupied by objects, light, people, sounds, movement. There is a crazy amount of beauty to be noticed here, if you pay attention, before it slips away.
This is the practice. It isn’t easy. It isn’t certain. It is beautiful.