As a maskless Joe Biden entered the House Chamber for his State of the Union address, shaking everyone’s hand, for a moment, it looked like the world had returned to its normal “somewhat” dependable self. But then my daughter, currently in law school, called at the end of Biden’s speech to ask me if I was following the spread of the new COVID-19 variant BA.2, also known as “stealth” Omicron. She wanted to know if I thought it would spread in the United States and cause another wave of the pandemic. She then asked me if we should buy iodine pills to protect us against Vladimir Putin’s potential use of nuclear weapons after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. My daughter ended the conversation with, “OK, I am going to watch an episode of the Gilmore Girls to make myself feel better.”

I was not surprised how my daughter ended our conversation. A few months earlier, when she was home for the holidays during the Omicron wave, she watched Gilmore Girls episode after episode on Netflix. She had watched the show so many times I wondered how it still held her interest. When I asked my daughter why she kept watching Gilmore Girls reruns, she answered, “I find it soothing, Mom. I like the characters. They are dependable. I know what will happen next, and that comforts me.” I then turned to my younger daughter, and she said the exact same thing.

I mentioned this to my friend, a senior lawyer at a Wall Street firm, and she says that she does the same thing, but she watches SVU reruns. She tells me there is always something bad happening at the beginning of the episode, and usually, by the end of the episode, the characters resolve it. They close the loop, and there is certainty. It makes her feel good. She also finds the characters predictable and dependable. I asked another friend, an artist, who was watching reruns of Property Brothers for a similar fix, and my client, who runs her own business, likes reruns of The Bachelorette. It makes her feel like she can find love in the future and finds knowing how everyone will act hopeful and comforting.

I remember watching a lot of reruns when I was young, but I found them irritating, and no help for what ailed me. I had my own addiction to certainty and a different way to soothe it. I was always worried about my grades, a boy liking me, or a summer job. So, I would write stories about what would happen next in my life to make me feel certain. However, when none of the plots played out in real life. I was left surprised and devastated and unable to handle the twists and turns of life.

The only problem is that these approaches to uncertainty—whether we try to write our own plotlines or turn to existing, familiar ones—provide us with only temporary relief and escape. Starting in my thirties, this realization that I couldn’t escape uncertainty played a huge role in my life. I got to a point that I realized certainty was unattainable because anything can change and be taken away. I thought my life would be secure when I became a lawyer and got that big job at a law firm, only to find out that they were firing half the first years because of the economy. My job was saved but I never again felt safe. The marriage I entered into for a lifelong commitment blew up when my husband came home one day and said he wanted to be with other women. All the things I thought were safe and secure were nothing more than choices that led to experiences with just as much uncertainty as anything else in my life.

Enter the pandemic. Sure, we had heard about events like this in history, but most of us felt very certain something like this would never happen. I sometimes think of the Saturday Night Live sketch from last year (which I saw only once!) when a group of people go to a psychic in 2019. She predicts one of their boyfriends would be washing off the outside of a Doritos bag before they open it—and how certain they were that this was the most unlikely thing ever to happen.

As I write this now, if not for my pursuit of comfort in the unknown, I don’t know how I would have managed my husband leaving or dealing with a global pandemic. Sure, I had unbearable heartbreak, disappointment, and lost moments, but I was able to hold a loose grip on hope knowing that uncertainty was my best ally because if I wanted my life to change, it had to happen in the unknown. Hope is a funny thing. You don’t need that much hope for it to feed you and sustain you during challenging times.

Many of us don’t realize that our despair often sinks us much more than the events that happen to us. Despair is merely another form of certainty, making us believe that the past and this moment guarantee a certain future. A loose grip on hope does the opposite. You see things for what they are, but you still get to believe in the potential of the unknown, the miracles, and the good things that you can never predict. Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” At first glance, the quote makes you laugh. At second glance, we realize many of us actually feel this way and it is our potential path to live in despair.

So, when did uncertainty become my ally? I wish I could say I had this moment and never questioned life again, but that wouldn’t be true. However, I had a decisive, “Aha” moment that changed my life. I’ve written about this moment many times in my books, and I have gone over and over it on my podcast, but it bears repeating. It’s the ultimate rerun, a Taoist story about a farmer.

One day, so the story goes, a farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, “You have the worst luck.” The farmer replied to the neighbor, “Maybe.” The next day, the horse returned with five mares, and his neighbor came by and said, “You have the best luck.” The farmer replied, “Maybe.” The day after that, the farmer’s son was riding the horse and fell off and broke his leg, and the neighbor came by and said to the farmer, “You have the worst luck.” The farmer replied, “Maybe.” The next day, the army came looking to draft the boy for combat, but he could not go because his leg was broken. The neighbor came by and said, “You have the best luck.” Again, the farmer said, “Maybe.”

When I first heard this story, I remember feeling a deep shift within, but it took me a while to embrace this as my life philosophy. As the years went by, it has been my lifesaver and perspective for holding onto hope without attaching to an outcome being one way or another. Just like the farmer whose horse runs away, we lose jobs, people break our hearts, and businesses go under, but the next moment always has the potential for something new. It might not be as big as the farmer’s son being spared from war, but often life changes ever so slightly each day. Eventually, a new path is created for us, and sometimes it truly is better than we can imagine. Other times it is just enough to squeeze some new experiences out of the moment or create a life still worth living.

In my opinion, the best we can do is embrace the Maybe. Sure, things might not work out to our liking. You can refer to it as the “maybe not,” but that is just one piece of uncertainty. The unknown also offers another side of maybe. Maybe what is happening is good. Maybe we can accept what is happening and still be OK, or maybe things can get better. This way of thinking gives us the sliver of hope that propels us to get out of bed in the morning. Enough hope to create new business even when the economy is uncertain, begin new relationships even when we are heartbroken, and send our kids back to school with masks (or no masks!) when COVID-19 is still in our communities.

For me, life is not any more uncertain now than it has ever been. I find these days more challenging at times but in no way more uncertain. Many of us are unaware that the uncertainty we run away from rules our lives whether we like it or not. The job we take, the person we marry, or the business we start are all measured in some way with our relationship with the unknown. How much risk can we tolerate? How many things are we “willing not to know” in our relationship? How close to becoming broke are you willing to go to make your dreams come true? It has always been a game of surrender and letting go, but because most days look the same, we don’t always notice the constant change of life. We fail to see all the things that must come together every day to make it look the same and all the subtle shifts that create change even when we can’t see it in the moment.

But now, this has all become so much more obvious. Questions like, “Is it really safe to follow the new CDC guidelines on masks?” “Will my employer now ask me to come to the office full-time?” “Can I take this vacation to Europe or Asia this summer or will there be another variant?” “Will this pandemic ever end and life get completely back to normal?” “Will climate change affect the community I live in?” “Is it possible that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be the start of World War III? And the list goes on. We are all at a crossroads. Either we develop a new relationship with the unknown, in a way to partner with it, or we live with an incredible amount of stress and worry while trying to control things that are obviously out of our grasp.

If we can just remember life is filled with potential because the unknown exists, we can live differently. If you can shift to this perspective—that life is always offering you something new—you will be more likely to live in wonder, creativity, and innovation. You will live with less stress and worry because most pressures are future projections and not based on the present. When we recognize the other side of Maybe, each moment offers us more than our greatest fear. And even if our fears still exist, embracing all of Maybe gives us the view where so much more is possible.

I am positive that this idea of Maybe will give you more resilience and hope than watching reruns. You will have to try it and let me know if it can stand up against reruns of the Gilmore Girls or reruns of a really good season of the Bachelorette. Just maybe it can!

Allison Carmen is a business consultant, business and life coach, podcast host, and author. After fifteen years of working as an attorney overwhelmed with anxiety about the future, Allison Carmen found hope and freedom when she discovered the Philosophy of Maybe which later became her popular book The Gift of Maybe. Today, Allison works as a life coach and business consultant with a vast array of people, from entrepreneurs and owners of multi-million-dollar companies to artists, actors, writers, fashion designers, attorneys, medical workers, nannies, and parents. Allison’s book, The Gift of Maybe, was published by Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Her newest book is A Year without Men: A Twelve-Point Guide to Inspire + Empower Women (Skyhorse, 2021). Allison is also a popular blogger for The Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and AARP’s The Ethel. For more information visit www.allisoncarmen.com and subscribe to her podcast 10 Minutes to Less Suffering.



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