I remember that as early as 3 years old I was afraid of going down a big slide in New York’s Central Park. No matter how my mom assured me I was going to be fine, I wouldn’t try it. My fear about the uncertainty of the outcome of sliding was too potent, and I didn’t want to experience that feeling.
My intolerance for any sensation connected with uncertainty, pleasure as well as anxiety, has proved a mixed blessing. Completing vast numbers of writing and music projects was a way of banishing the sensation of uncertainty. Getting something done gave me the artificial sense that I had moved towards certain success.
And yet what happened when I did finish the work? A lot of times I put it away and didn’t share it because doing so would have meant going back into uncertainty. The only way I could bear to bring the work out was to, once again, convince myself that the results were guaranteed to bring me success.
Yes, my mental “trick” did result in a lot of completed pieces, and it even got some of it out the door. It also meant I was ferocious about editing my work to make it “perfect” well before anyone else saw it, or at least creating a version that I considered to have the essential element for success. It was always such a blow to me to have those “finished” products not have the impact that I imagined they would, and for years I couldn’t really understand it.
Now I see that what was helping me was also hurting me. By having no tolerance for the feeling of uncertainty, I lost out on two important things. The first was, obviously, the ability to let other people help me with my work.
I wasn’t about to let some editor or collaborator mess with my perfect scenario of a completed project. Then I’d really be out of control. So I lost out on a lot of input that would have helped me create projects that really would have connected better with an audience.
The second thing I lost out on was more subtle. If you can’t tolerate the way uncertainty feels, you don’t play or watch many games or sports, you don’t travel much, and you don’t date. That was me.
When I played these mental tricks on myself I kept myself from learning how to be a better athlete, kept myself from learning a language, kept myself from forming the beginning of a relationship. Worse, by depriving myself of these things, I became a person who couldn’t relate to other people. That meant most people couldn’t relate to the person I was, and by extension the things I was writing about!
Thankfully I have been on to myself for some time now. I still don’t tolerate well the feelings brought up by uncertainty, but I am learning to address my intolerance rather than avoid it. My energy goes to a constructive struggle rather than a parasitic one.
I am learning Italian, doing better in my relationships (I think), and writing better stuff. If I live long enough I might even produce something that’s really of value to lots of people! Not bad for 49 (Happy birthday to me!)
Do you have a problem with uncertainty? Maybe, like me, you can handle uncertainty as long as it doesn’t make you feel anything. What’s your story?