When I was in college, I wrote a successful speech for my public communications class that heavily quoted the great philosopher Kesha. I’m not sure if my professor found this funny or simply missed the references all together. Either way, thinking back upon this experience causes my mind to drift to other great philosophers and the wise words they have imparted on the masses. Michael Scott once said, “I knew exactly what to do. But, in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.” And this, my friends, is what we’re here to dive into.
Why It’s Ok To Not Know What’s Next
At times, it seems as though that Michael Scott quote is the definition of life in your 20’s… or really, your life at any point in which you are unsure of what’s ahead. It’s like, you know what to do big picture, but at the same time, there’s this lost feeling when it comes to actually knowing what to do. You with me?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been working through The Artists Way by Julia Cameron (book post coming soon!). One line that stuck out to me was this: “Exploration leads to accomplishment” followed by this: “Small actions lead us to the larger movements in our creative lives.” To me, that’s what embodies – big picture – why it’s ok to not know what’s next. You take little steps forward, and those lead to bigger leaps; to places you might not have gotten to if you had decided you definitely, 100% already knew what was next.
The TL;DR version is this: not knowing = OK. Do not panic. You’re not a POS wasting your life (probably). Use this time of not knowing to your advantage – there can be a lot of good that comes from it. Go forth. Yay.
There’s not a rush to the finish line of life, so while we should do what we say we want to do, it’s ok to have seasons where we’re unsure of our next step. It’s sort of a paradox. We can’t just remain motionless in life and hope it all works out. There is active participation involved, and yet at the same time, we do not need to buy in to the idea that there is a set timeline that must be adhered to in life.
Opportunity For Growth
I know it’s an old adage that gets overused, but that’s because it’s truth. Take advantage of the time. Remind yourself of what you want and what you need. Learn what you can live with, and what you can live without. What creative pursuits bring you joy? Who are the type of people you want to surround yourself with?
Happiness In The Unexpected
It’s simple, really. Embrace the unexpected things that seem to abound when you don’t know exactly what will come once you take that small step ahead. When you’re not walking forward with your blinders on, you are often more open to moments of surprise and wonder.
Don’t Take This The Wrong Way
I realize this has the potential to be misconstrued as a call to throw your cares to the wind, not think about the future, be free and live laugh love because we’re in our 20’s (or whatever stage of life you’re in) and they don’t matter. But they do matter. I’m not saying it’s better just to sit around hoping for lightning to strike you with the great what next. Instead, I think this points to the idea that one can step out and take risks and accept failures, and not be certain of the exact place you’re going to end up. You can still be intentional with your life and your decisions while not knowing what’s next.
There’s a quote by Agnes De Mille that says, “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how…the artists never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong but we take leap after leap into the dark.” It’s not about being disengaged – it’s about not letting yourself waste time worrying. Not knowing what’s next can be a beautiful thing, if we embrace it as a freedom to try rather than a paralysis – a freedom to take those continuous leaps into the dark.
This Is The Worst Phrase Ever
A phrase that really seems to personify a collective perspective on this is “getting my life together.” If you have absolutely no idea what that is actually supposed to mean or suggest, welcome. You’re not the only one. Above all, my issue with the phrase is that it suggests there should be no questions. If one is to have their life together, there must be no doubt over career or direction. With this phrase, it feels you must ALWAYS know what is next. Questions over purpose or future plans have no room in this life that is all together. Packaged neatly, no loose ends.
The problem is that “getting your life together” often references traditional views of success and worthiness. Relationships, careers, house with a picket fence, five year plan. It’s not like any of these “standard” ideals in home, relationship, or self are bad. I like to be organized and prepared just as much as the next person. This way of thinking, though, fails to look at the wider picture of our lives. Here’s the thing: life is full of loose ends. Massive, tangled, messy loose ends. Moments of unexpectedness, changing plans, chance encounters, let downs, wild joy, and a vast array of experiences in between. And the truth is, that tangled ball of threads is your life. It doesn’t have to be perfect or presentable or fit into a certain mold, or check off a certain set of boxes.
The Thing Is, No One Has the Same Path
Someone else’s path seeming clear years in advance doesn’t mean we should feel guilty or stressed out if ours is not as defined, or filled with uncertainty. This is uncomfortable. We don’t generally like the idea of “not knowing”. We definitely don’t like the idea of having to explain this not knowing to someone else, especially when it feels too easy for people to pass their own securities onto us. Today we are so connected, so ABLE to know just about anything we want to know that the thought of not knowing what’s next for us personally can be terrifying. How can we not know? How can we not know something when it comes to OURSELVES? But it’s ok. Not knowing what’s next for ourselves is not some fatal flaw. It just isn’t.
And So, We Move Forward
At our core, we must hold these truths tightly: first, our paths are different than those around us. That’s what makes us so interesting. That what makes us a world of individuals. Secondly, it’s ok to not know what’s next – but we can’t sit there forever. Do something, take those leaps into the unknown, move forward. Even if it’s baby steps.
Not knowing what’s next can be scary and exciting and wild, and will keep you up some nights tossing and turning, trying to hold your uncertainties or dreams so carefully in your palms. But it’s worth it. Stepping out is worth it, even if and when you don’t know where you’re going. And so we move forward. Small moment by small moment. Leaping into the dark.
[…] Cameron, Non-Fiction) Ok, ok, last one. I quoted a few things from this book here, and the bottom line is this: read this book. It’s a twelve week workbook style piece that […]