In a few months’ time, my life will be at one of its most important turning points – the transition from a student to a professional, from someone pretending to be an adult and living in fear of being discovered (trust me) to a real person with a real life (whatever that means). And I’m very, very excited about it. But somewhere, a little part of me is sad that this adventure will come to an end.
Growing up, we are taught to value confidence and certainty. We are taught to plan ahead in life, in the short term and the long term. Above all, we are taught to treat the absence of these things as less than ideal, if not as a complete negative. While it can hardly be denied that those are important values to inculcate, my experiences and interactions over the last year and a half have made me realise that it’s equally important to be able to see the value in the opposite.
In fact, since the time that I was in high school, I’ve planned ahead for the next phase of my life and worked hard towards achieving it. Undergraduate college, then scholarship, then master’s – the next step has always been clear in my head. And I’m extremely lucky to be able to say that each of those steps worked out the way I wanted them to and that I was able to enjoy each of them. Few people get to look back and say that they have no regrets and I count myself in those lucky few. Of course, I have a LOT of people to thank for all of it and I can’t even begin to express that gratitude. But keeping that aside for the moment, the point I want to emphasise here is that this ‘plan’ has always been something that brought me confidence and relief and more than all else, a feeling of security. Knowing where I was headed was a privilege and one that I have cherished with all my heart. Obviously, this is not to say that things came on a platter. Like any other kid, there were periods when I didn’t know what I wanted to do or which direction I wanted to head in, but they were mostly short and few and far between. By and large, I never had to deal with large amounts of, or extended periods of uncertainty.
However, in the last year and a half, I have seen multiple friends and acquaintances around me grapple with that very uncertainty. It comes in different shapes, sizes and forms – where will I get a job? Should I do a PhD or work for a while? Should I stay on here, move to a new place or go back home? How do I factor in my relationship/marriage into my plans? What’s next for me? – the list is endless and the permutations innumerable. And every time a friend has spoken to me about it, my first reaction has been to console them, to say that things will work out, that it will all be okay. But a completely unrelated conversation with a friend few months ago made me question this behaviour.
Uncertainty does not necessarily have to denote fear and panic. In choosing to phrase it that way, we discount the possibility for change that comes with it. This is not to say that change is always good or that everyone must love change. Some changes are very hard and there’s no doubt about it. But equally, uncertainty brings with it flexibility and a different kind of freedom, that of carving your own next step. Uncertainty can also breed excitement, about new places, adventures and experiences. It can signify old endings and new beginnings. But more than anything else, I think it can teach us to value what we have without taking it for granted.
I will be moving back home in a few months and intend to start a job soon after, although I haven’t yet applied for any. Nevertheless, my path is fairly chalked out. On the other hand, one of my closest friends is getting married shortly and then moving (husband and dog in tow) to a new country for a different job. Two others are grappling with which way to go after this year comes to an end. Clearly, we all have differing degrees of uncertainty in our lives. But if you look at the flip side, while I’m going back to what’s safe and familiar, these 3 friends are choosing between options that may take them on exciting new rollercoasters! And for once, I’m almost a little jealous. It may seem like I’m being ungrateful but I’m not. I’m extremely grateful for knowing what’s ahead. But all I’m trying to say is that if we embrace uncertainty for the flexibility and excitement that it can bring, maybe we can deal with it better and not allow it to be a source of stress and anxiety. Certainty is definitely a privilege but uncertainty isn’t always the worst thing either. 🙂