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What’s Your Relationship With Uncertainty?

2 December 2013

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 December 2, 2013
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For those of you who don’t know me, I just spent 30 days in Bali as a mentor at The Daily Love Writer’s Mastermind—a retreat where 13 writers wrote a first draft of their book or screenplay in a month. When Mastin Kipp, founder of The Daily Love, asked me to go, I was like, “Sure, a month in Bali? Sounds like paradise!” But as the months ticked by and we got closer and closer to our departure date, I felt resistance coming up.

What? I have to get a bunch of shots? They have Dengue Fever there? Rabid dogs walking the streets? Holy crap, what if I have to be helicoptered to Hong Kong? What if I get so sick they can’t helicopter me to Hong Kong? What if they get me to the helicopter to Hong Kong but it’s broken? This went on and on in my mind, spiraling out numerous doomsday scenarios, each one ending with me being helicoptered to China.

As writers, part of our skill set is an ability to imagine things happening. Mostly, its cool stuff like, “What could happen to my heroine in this scene where the bats attack and try to bite her neck?” Or, “What would happen if a meteor landed in a small town and suddenly, all its inhabitants began to yodel?” The flip side of this ability to envision interesting scenarios is the ability to imagine terrible things happening in our own lives.

It didn’t help that on the first day after our arrival in Ubud, I tried to cross the street and caused a scooter crash. The Balinese driver was ok, his bike was banged up, and I paid for repairs, for him to see a doctor, but I was shaken. Had all my predictions come true? Only would I cause OTHER people to have to be helicoptered to Hong Kong? And yes, there were scary looking dogs walking around town. Not the cute kind we have in the U.S., ones with collars and actual owners. These dogs were wild, Cujo-like, half crippled.

Each week, Mastin held weekly personal growth workshops aimed at helping the writers. And in one of the gatherings, he said something that struck to the core of what I’d been experiencing.

He said, “The quality of your life, is the quality of your relationship with uncertainty.”

I felt as though I’d been struck by lightning (cliché, I know, but true).  In my writing, in my life, I have always tried to create certainty. “If I give my work to a ton of friends for feedback, then I’ll lessen the chances of failure.” “If I teach X amount of classes, I’ll get X amount of income and that will make me feel calm.” The list of the ways I have clung to certainty and not done things because they were too risky, goes on and on.

Yes, we all have to earn a living. Yes, we all have to be careful not to step in front of moving trains. And I understood that I was doing these things out of self-protection. But in protecting myself, was I allowing fear to stop me from pursuing things I loved?

I felt totally out of my comfort zone going to Bali. But if I hadn’t, I never would have experienced a tropical rainstorm pounding violently on my roof in the middle of the night. I never would have eaten papaya that tasted like fruit flavored butter (I’m serious. Fruit. And butter. Together.) I’d never have stepped off that curb, caused a scooter crash, and learned that the Balinese driver and I could both be fine.

Most importantly, I’d never have come to the realization that I needed to change my relationship with risk.

Being a writer is inherently uncertain. The likelihood of making a decent living is slim, and there are many pitfalls. People can hate the thing you poured your heart into, spent years on. You could fail. You could write something that doesn’t sell.

But is all that time and effort a waste if you are doing the thing that makes you feel truly alive? Pixar has a consistent pattern of completely re-booting ideas that don’t work. They embrace uncertainty. They go for it, spend a lot of money and then turn the ship around if it’s not going anywhere. Nobody dies. Taking a leap out into the unknown, for them, is just part of the creative process. And it delivers HUGE rewards.

So let me list the action steps I am going to take to alter my relationship with certainty.

When offered a job, I am going to ask myself, “Do I really WANT to do that job? Or am I just taking it because I’m scared?”

I am going to work every day on a project of mine that I know is un-commercial, just because I love it.

Instead of backing away when I feel uncomfortable about something, I’m going lean in a bit and listen. Is it fear talking, or is it genuinely something I shouldn’t do?

And finally, I’m going to consciously make myself NOT THINK about helicopters. Of any kind.

So what’s your relationship with uncertainty? Can you live with it? Can you do more than that—can you embrace it?”

Can you step away from that job that provides a steady paycheck, but doesn’t allow you time to write? Can you step out onto that blank page in a way that truly scares you?

“The quality of your life, is the quality of your relationship with uncertainty.”

What’s one small step you can take today to commit to this risky, creative, crazy, completely unreliable art form you love?

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