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Embrace uncertainty

Dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille said that "Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little." That reminds me of Peter Pan's warning that "the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it."

It also reminds me of something my dad taught me about swimming…it doesn't matter how deep the water is, you're only using the top bit. You don't need to know everything, just use what you have.

So many of us go through life desperately seeking certainty. That is a search doomed to disappointment. There can be no certainty. Think of the thousands of decisions you make every day, from whether to take the next breath to which TV programme to watch to what time you'll show up to work or what's for dinner or which world problem makes you angry enough to actually get up and do something about it. Decisions every second of every day. Conscious decisions, subconscious decisions, unconscious decisions. Even if you only make one decision every 5 minutes – and I believe you make many more than that – that's still 288 decisions a day. The number of permutations in that 288 would be huge, even if each of those was a binary choice, a simple yes/no, this or that. Many of our decisions are selections from among more than yes or no. If you change one or more decisions the outcome of the combination could be vastly different.

And that is just you. There are 7 billion people on the planet. That is 2 trillion decisions. Each one with a number of possible choices. Remember we are still talking about one day here.

Any one of those decisions could, directly or through a chain reaction, have an impact on you.

Do you want to predict what that impact will be? That is what we try to do, when we look for certainty. We try to guess what decisions everyone is making, how those decisions will impact on the decisions everyone else is making, how that will impact on us.

Sounds exhausting to me.

We need to embrace uncertainty. They say that walking is just a controlled fall…we need to accept that sometimes the control mechanism will fail and we will actually fall. But we can get up again. We might need help. We might walk or otherwise move differently to the way we did before, but if we are still living, we can get up again. We can always move forwards, if we're willing to do so.

Even if we don't necessarily know which direction is forwards, or how we're going to move, we can do it.

Peter Pan seemed to be arguing for certainty: that you had to be sure that you can do something or you won't be able to. I choose to read it differently. I choose to believe that what he meant was that we shouldn't waste our energy on doubting, we should save it for flying. I choose to make a distinction between being sure and doubting.

Being sure is a state. Doubting is an action. I think Pan meant: just trust that you can, trust that it will be ok. You don't need to be sure, you don't need to understand how, just take the leap and trust that you will be able to control the fall. Or survive it.

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