On Navigating Uncertainty

By Laura Carney 04/14/20

We must be willing to let go of everything to find what it is that is truly meant for us. We’re experiencing a great test of that right now, for everyone.

Image: 
Woman at beginning of long bridge, looking to the side.
You MUST go where your heart tells you. Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

I know some people are getting really scared right now. As usual over the past three years, my reaction has been paradoxical to this.

Since November 2016, I’ve been checking off my late father’s bucket list and writing a book about it.

I was visiting my brother in Massachusetts when he gave it to me. He’d discovered it in a recent move. Of the 60 items, 54 were left. I resolved to finish them all by 2020 (the year my dad wrote he hoped to live until—instead he was killed in 2003 by a distracted driver).

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching since the start of this pandemic to uncover why I might be having this take, and I’ve come up with a few reasons. Decided I ought to write them down because they might help one or a few of you.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional life coach or therapist. I’m just a woman on an adventure, learning as she goes along.

For the past three years, I’ve lived my life like it’s a story being written, and the bad things that happen make it a better story.

When I was laid off from my job in Year Two and still had 40 items left, at first I freaked out. Then my wise cousin in Florida said, “Plot twist!” I realized she was right. Nobody would be interested in the story of someone who kept her cushy life and career all the way through checking off this list. At some point I would have to rely on faith.

I relied on the severance I received and paltry freelance jobs for a year, just so I could get the writing done. The idea, after that, was to have my agent sell the writing as a book and I’d get a deal and would be back to my regular salary and even better. Nope, didn’t happen. Even after a year of writing.

What did happen: Lots of prayer and lots of freelance jobs. I wouldn’t have wanted this book deal to come so easily. I had to work hard. I had to be sure of myself. And I had to pay my own way, even if it was scary without my steady job (and no plans to apply for a new one—I needed the time to write).

By the end of the next year I’d had sometimes six gigs at once and made more money than I’d ever made. (That too will be in my book.)

I’ve become desensitized to financial changes of fate now. As long as I have enough to eat and pay rent, I’m OK. Everything else is extra.

The lesson: View your life like an interesting story and you’ll be less attached to the results.

Disappointments are inevitable—but humans are made to be adaptable.

We wouldn’t have dominated as a species so far if this weren’t true. We have evolved to move beyond any hardship.

The power of prayer and positive thinking matters more than you think.

Try this for a second.

Visualize the day you get to be outside, living your normal life again. Feel the air on your face, hear the sounds of the birds in the trees, the warm sun beating against your closed eyes. Some music playing as a car rolls by. Children laughing, a man singing. You are drinking coffee in a cafe. You are walking to your office. You are painting on a hilltop. You are sitting in a stadium. You are enjoying dinner in your favorite restaurant with your favorite person.

It’s really important right now that we can focus on images like this. KNOW that you will be there again. FEEL how it will feel when you get there. That way these things have already happened in your mind…it’s now just up to reality to catch up with them.

I’ve had to do this numerous times with the most impossible-seeming list items so I wouldn’t be too afraid: talk with a president, speak to a national TV audience, skydive at least once. Hell, even “go to the Super Bowl” was a little scary. The one I’ve pictured the most is the moment I sell my book.

One day last summer I saw a green silk floral dress in a shop window and determined it would be what I wore when I sold it. I waited all summer for it to go on sale, and then I bought it. I’ve seen myself in that dress, selling the book, many times.

Now I just have to wait for reality to catch up.

Your loved ones need your creativity, calm and optimism.

I can’t recall one time where my father encouraged me to worry. He was usually subtly teaching my brother and me survival skills. How to tell time on a sun dial. What to do if a bear was chasing us. How to start a fire in the woods. He’d bring up these things apropos of nothing. But I think he was preparing us. He wanted us to feel we could stay calm in an emergency.

It’s why we were so good at supporting each other when he died.

Not everyone has had this training. If you have, it’s your job to keep them calm right now and tell them what we’re experiencing is an opportunity.

View every obstacle as an adventure.

Any time something goes wrong with the list, I don’t just think, oh this will be an interesting chapter. I also think, hmm, what am I meant to learn from this? Usually my dad has a way of sending things to me that I needed more than I wanted. Or that I didn’t even know I wanted.

Our subconscious wants things without telling us. If we are living our lives openly, we can find fulfillment of them.

But this requires letting go of controlling outcomes.

I have no idea how this will all turn out now, my project, given that I’m losing three months most likely—or more. Somehow a virtual visit to Vienna or drive in a Corvette seem less thrilling.

What I do know is that list items are always checked off exactly the way God and my dad intend them to be….I don’t get a choice in that matter.

That’s what’s so awe-inspiring about being human, being a soul in a body. God is around us, pulling the strings, all the time.

He’s helping us especially right now. Just wait.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

When you’ve set a goal for yourself, particularly one with many moving parts—like training for a marathon, working on a large painting, setting up family game night—it’s easier to weather anxiety about the world around you.

You have no idea how many times people have tried to talk me out of going on this mission. “It seems impossible,” they said. “Aren’t you worried you can’t do it? What happens then?" they said. “What’s the point of doing this if nobody changes the way they drive?”

When you believe in something and work hard to make it happen, you have to be able to drown out that noise.

You know who you are and what you need to be happy, or at least you are willing to find out. You MUST go where your heart tells you. The usual distractions of life are now gone. You have no more excuses. Set up a new mission, a new project, one that requires an everyday routine.

I promise the fulfillment of it, increment by increment, even if it’s different from what you’d do in your regular life, will keep you happy and sane.

Understand that we are all connected and every person’s experience is different. Listen. Appreciate their unique take on things.

Most of what has gotten me through this project has been my willingness to revert to a child’s mentality. I have to approach people for lessons in list items all the time: tennis lessons, golf lessons, skydiving lessons. Realizing there are people out there with knowledge to help you is how life is supposed to be.

We are not meant to hold all the answers. We are meant to reach out to one another and learn.

Blaming people for what’s happening or shaming them to do what’s right isn’t going to do anyone any good. Instead, let’s support and learn from each other.

That being said: Wish the best for others. This is no time for schadenfreude.

Because we are all made up of the same spiritual material, whenever we wish harm on another or hope the universe punishes them, we are telling the universe that we would like to be punished.

If we say, “it’s not fair that so-and-so has this much success, money or happiness or health or good fortune,” the universe instead hears us say, “I don’t want success, money, happiness, health or good fortune,” because we are made of the same divine material as so-and-so.

Do you see where I’m going here? If you don’t shine, I don’t shine. Let’s show a little compassion.

It’s gotten me through the past two years in particular…when I watched my peers seemingly thrive while making more conventional choices. Part of me envied their seeming security.

Instead, wish them well. They are part of you.

And that brings me to my final piece of insight:

We are living in a world of abundance, not scarcity.

I’m sure this is the hardest for anyone to believe right now, but it’s true.

When my book didn’t sell on proposal alone (none of it had been written yet), I asked my dad in my head while praying one night, “Why do you want me to do this? It seems too hard! What is the message you hope for me to convey?”

And this was what I heard: “Abundance, not scarcity.”

I pictured a big apple pie and how my mom would let my brother or me slice it and then the other one choose. We were so competitive, thinking one would get more than the other.

Unfortunately this is how a good portion of the world thinks, and it’s not going to work well now. We need to be giving, not taking, with the faith that we WILL be provided for.

One of the things I’ve come to discover in these three years of devoting much of my time and energy, giving my all to honor someone, is that the more I give, the more I am just fine. Better than fine. Happy.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

God is an ever-giving presence. No matter what we do, he takes care of us. Because he made us. He loves us unconditionally. You do not have to do anything to earn God’s love.

Too often we live our lives by the notion that we must hold on to the fortune we have and only occasionally take a risk to reach for more, hoping whatever we have so far doesn’t spill out.

We must be willing to let go of everything to find what it is that is truly meant for us.

We’re experiencing a great test of that right now, for everyone.

So hold on to each other. Be merciful. Wish the most for each other.

We will get through this.

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Laura Carney is a magazine copy editor and writer in New York. She's been published by the Washington Post, The Hill, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping and other places, and also works on literary journals and TV recaps. She's currently writing her first book, about finishing 54 items on her late father's bucket list in only four years (@myfatherslist on Instagram and Twitter; myfatherslist.com). Her website is bylauracarney.com.