Saturday, September 2, 2017

Uncertainty Is the Only Certainty There Is,...

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My sublime, drop-dead gorgeous muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher 
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

"My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened." -Montaigne

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies, 

"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security." -John Allen Paulos. Mr. Paulos is a mathematician that looks like a mad scientist (in a good way).

This quote was the next to the last line of my last letter, The Only Thing That is Constant is Change. The subject of that letter was change, not uncertainty (it's not you, it's me). However, as promised, this letter is about uncertainty. It's inspired by the quote above, which, as you may remember, I admitted was about a kabillion times better than my lame version -- the only thing that's certain is uncertainty.

Full disclosure. I'm only vaguely aware of the work (literarily speaking only, I possess the mathematical prowess of fruit fly) of Mr. Paulos. However, he's on my list of people whose work I'll explore, eventually, maybe. Unfortunately, I'd have to live to the ripe old age of 300 or so to make a dent in the list, if I were to stop adding to it today.

"It's uncertainty that really makes us crazy" -me. Well, as it turns out, the fear of change can really make us crazy as well.

See, I originally began this part of the letter thusly: To one degree or another, we all make our peace with change. Ah, but uncertainty... But then I thought, no, wait a minute, I'll betcha a bottle a pop that there's a phobia. There's a phobia, metathesiophobia. 

I mention this because it's only fair. I don't know, but for all I know, there are people whose lives revolve around dealing with their crippling fear of change. I do know that I do know more than a few people who battle various and sundry anxieties all day, every day.

That said, with all due deference and empathy for all those who fear their personal demons might have a better chance of winning than I think/hope mine do, I maintain my original premise. For most folks, it ain't change, its uncertainty.

Which brings us back to -- to one degree or another, we all most of us make our peace with change. As I said last time, we don't necessarily care for a particular change but since changes are inevitable, right up to the very last one (deletion), you deal.

Also, when we get stuck in a rut we can't wait for a change or a least a happy distraction to come along. Hence, the popularity of vacations.

Ah, but uncertainty (change's cousin) and uncertainty's twin sibling, insecurity, those are world class anxiety generators for almost everyone.

Oh, before I forget... my dear Stickies you will, no doubt, encounter people who claim to love uncertainty and insecurity. They'll claim that they absolutely thrive on uncertainty and insecurity. They are either lying to you and/or themselves and/or have psychological problems.

I make no sweeping judgments. I've known some, um, very interesting people who make this claim. Just be careful. As always -- open heart, open mind -- but be careful.

If you're bored, you may actually go out of your way to drum up some change.


Suppose you're one of the lucky minority of people (roughly a third) that are "engaged" at work. I'm guessing you probably feel as though you're on the right path (certainty) and confident that you're unlikely to be laid off anytime soon (secure).

When folks are certain they've taken the right path or made the right choice and their feeling emotionally/financially/whateverly secure, they're unlikely to decide their good fortune is boring and decide to go for a walk at 3 A.M. down Crime and Drugs Avenue in search of adventure.

(Well, with the possible exception of some of those very interesting people I mentioned above.)

No, most of us would strive to seek out the version of a straight and narrow path that looks most likely to maintain our personal status quo. But shtuff happens.

Sooner or later, probably sooner, life's gonna' bite you on the ass. I'm not talking about the gentle nips we're all subject to from day one. I'm talking about the first time it feels like you've sat on a bear trap. If you're lucky this may not happen for awhile. For more than a few, it happens early and keeps on happening.

Regardless of how our particular life rolls out, we will all be introduced to uncertainty and insecurity. From an evolutionary/survival standpoint, this makes sense. Stay sharp and avoid being eaten. However, the consequences will be measured on the anxiety scale and range from mild to debilitating.

Whether God or evolution wired us this way, we're wired this way. Regardless of your level on the anxiety scale, regardless of what pushes your uncertainty/insecurity button, this is a game that can't be won no matter how hard you try. Happy, healthy, wealthy and wise people are dying slowly and painfully, or quickly and horribly, even as you read this.

Which is why, "... and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security."

Now, assuming that your anxiety level is (at least usually) and (at least mostly) manageable -- with or without professional assistance and/or pharmaceuticals:

1. Acknowledge/accept that uncertainty/insecurity, and the resulting anxiety, is part of the unchangeable nature of reality of life on Earth. Everyone's in the same boat, some just have nicer cabins than others. You're not gonna' wake up one day and be "cured." There is no cure, but you might just be able to generate a lower reading on the anxiety scale.

2. When you feel uncertain/insecure/anxious/etc. -- name it, then spit in its eye. "I'm feeling _______ because _______, so be it. I've been here before and I didn't die (or get eaten). I'll be here again." You can't make it go away; don't waste your energy trying. Identify it, call it out, take a deep breath or two and it'll lose at least half its power over you, maybe more.

3. Cultivate your own methods for stress reduction. I highly recommend going for a drive by yourself and singing an improvised operatic aria about the problem at full volume, but to each their own. Hint: keep the windows rolled up unless you're an opera singer in real life.

4. When you're not feeling uncertain/insecure/anxious/etc., take note, and be grateful. Think about this when you're feeling bored. Have you ever said, or heard anyone say, "My life sucks sweaty socks, I'm not feeling the least bit uncertain or insecure today."

5. There's more than one study out there that claims a moderate amount of anxiety is good for you.

6. If you go a-googling you will regularly encounter someone pointing out that scientific studies show that 85% (or some other number, but 85% is popular for some reason) of the shtuff we worry about never happens.

[Um, I was unable to verify that anyone has ever actually conducted such a study which makes sense when you think it through. How could you possibly/accurately determine what actually happened (or not)? It's the Information/Dizzinformation age, we're swimming in data, and yet people feel free to quote non-existent statistics. Now that worries me. Sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up, never mind, don't worry about it. Poppa loves you.]

Have an OK day.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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