The unknown can be a scary place.

I personally have quite a bit of uncertainty in my life right now. So I get it.

Last week I was in Pennsylvania (or “PA” as we natives prefer to call it) to testify in my mom’s long-term disability appeal hearing. Now we have to wait 4-6 weeks for the result, which will determine what’s next for my parents (and, in turn, for me as well). We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a positive outcome, but all we can do now is hope.

Also, my wife is nearing the end of her contract as a post-doctoral researcher and is weighing her options career-wise. The academic path is a tough row to hoe, with few job openings and highly-qualified competition (they’re all PhDs, after all). On the other hand, a job in industry presents more opportunities but requires transitioning into a completely different line of work.

Oh and, by the way, did I mention we’re trying to get pregnant?

So yes, I’m aware that the unknown can be a scary place. But it doesn’t have to be.

A little bit of uncertainty is good for you.

On my flight back to Austin from PA, I got to thinking about uncertainty. Specifically, I thought about why having a bit of uncertainty in your life is actually a positive thing. We tend to avoid the unknown, but I say we ought to welcome it into our lives (in healthy amounts, of course).

Here’s why a dose of uncertainty is good for you.

Uncertainty sparks creativity.

When you don’t have all the answers, you’re forced to “think outside the box.” Uncertainty leaves room for the gray area between the black-and-white that you can’t access when things are already determined.

Let’s say you’re on the job hunt (like my wife is about to be). Searching for employment is stressful and definitely uncertain. But within that uncertainty you have infinite potential for creative thinking.

Maybe you’ve worked in the same field for your entire career and you’re worried you’ll be a) not qualified for a different position, or b) pigeonholed into the same type of role. In the search for a new job, though, you get to explore your passions and talents in a way that allows you to fit into a new mold.

Get your creative juices flowing by asking yourself questions like:

  • How do the skills I’ve acquired in my career so far translate to other industries?
  • What passions do I have that I can incorporate into my job search criteria?
  • Do I have other talents that were underutilized in my previous job(s)?

Without the uncertainty that comes with a job search, you may never take the time to explore these questions that could create positive change in your career.

(Read the Self-Worthy article How to Feel Fulfilled: Change the Way You Tell Your Story for more mindset-shifting tips!)

Uncertainty promotes mindfulness.

Let’s face it–most of us move through our days on autopilot. The everyday grind allows you to put the blinders on, tune out, and slog along. But you can’t slip into the zombie-state of your daily routine when you don’t know what’s ahead.

Uncertainty brings back your awareness. When your routine is disrupted, your senses heighten and you tune back in to the details.

This is a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. You’re already tuned in. You’re already primed to be watchful. All you have to do is listen to the messages you’re receiving, both external and internal.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t spend a lot of time in a courtroom setting. So, needless to say, testifying in my mom’s disability hearing was a disruption to my normal routine.

During my testimony, I was hyper-alert. I tuned in to the body language and intonation of the judge as she questioned me. Much more so than I would be in normal conversation. I was also aware of my own internal signals–an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, nervous energy.

I turned my awareness into mindfulness by consciously slowing my breath and paying attention to the information around me and within me.

Breathing deeply helped to slow my heart rate. Slowing down allowed me to really listen to the questions I was asked and to formulate clear, deliberate responses. The process was still nerve-wracking, but mindfulness made it less so.

Uncertainty encourages autonomy.

As you navigate the unknown, you build trust in yourself and your abilities.

The most effective way to learn something new is by simply doing it. Uncertainty encourages learning-by-doing in that it forces you to venture into unexplored territory. It’s like learning to swim by throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool.

Yes, it’s scary to learn this way. But you’re effectively putting yourself through a trial by fire, testing your own resolve and your skills under pressure. You’re proving yourself… to yourself.

What results is an increase in self-sufficiency and self-confidence. You build autonomy in learning-by-doing.

Pema Chödrön put it best. In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, she says:

“As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky—that’s called liberation.”

Creativity. Mindfulness. Liberation.

Uncertainty sounds pretty appealing when it leads to such positive outcomes, doesn’t it?

How can YOU reframe your mindset about uncertainty to use it to your own advantage?

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