Niepewność – The Road to Freedom

Emblem transpoзиция by Pawel Awdejuk

Would you like to be free? I’m pretty sure everyone would. And in most democratic countries people are told they are free. Here, in Poland, we have freedom (or wolność as we call it) and independence written over all the wars we have fought and all the historic changes we went through. But are we really free? And do we even understand what freedom means? And what it entails?

Being truly free isn’t easy. Some would even say that true wolność is impossible to achieve. But above all, becoming free requires tremendous amounts of responsibility, self discipline and is always connected with uncertainty (known in my home country as niepewność). Being uncertain is basically embroidered in the fabric of freedom. Being free means being fully responsible for one’s life, decisions and choices – and never being certain of what tomorrow will bring. And that’s scary as hell. But is that niepewność, that fear (or strach as it is called in Poland) necessarily bad?

You see, strach is essentially just information. An alarm warning you to be careful, because you are out of the safe waters of your comfort zone and “here there may be monsters.” What you do with that fear is entirely up to you. It can be a paralyzing burden, or an amazing source of energy. The most important thing is not to let it overwhelm you. Imagine taking a ride on a horse. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and everything is all right with the world. Suddenly your stallion starts to gallop wildly! Why? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do with that situation. You’re now cantering on a barrel of pure energy. Will you take control and make it an awesome, speedy ride? Or will you let it run wherever it wants, risking serious injuries? That’s what your fear and uncertainty are – a crazed horse taking you towards the unknown.

And, if left uncontrolled, it can take you to some very dark places. If you let niepewność mutate into strach and later panika you can convince yourself that you will only be safe when others watch you and decide your fate for you. That your every step should be monitored by cameras. Your every call or e-mail needs to be checked by the authorities for dangers. Your children can only be safe if you constantly watch them online on cameras, check their location on GPS and listen to their telephone calls. And that you will never be able to make something of yourself, see places and meet interesting people, because you’re too weak, too dumb and too ugly.

That kind of niepewność can lead you to vote for people feeding on fear and uncertainty, who will convince you that every foreigner is dangerous, every accident was an assassination planned by neighboring countries, and there are killers and terrorists all around you.  That kind of strach will leave you chained to your 9-5 job every day and your TV set every evening. Will you be more safe that way? Maybe, maybe not. But you will definitely be less free.

So what should you do? Walk blindly into any risky situation like a child playing ciuciubabka? Ignoring any uncertainty you feel? Absolutely not. But it’s wise to rein it in. And use it for your benefit. Because fear, when used properly, can become a superpower. When you’re scared, you are faster, stronger, smarter and more focused. Here are some examples: In 2006, in Quebec, a 41-year-old mother fought a fully grown polar bear attacking her son. Yup, she went bare knuckle fighting with a polar bear! And she won, because no matter the species, you never piss off a mother with a child. In 2012, in Virginia, a 22-year-old daughter lifted the BMW, which fell from jacks and pinned her father to the ground. Then she pulled him from under it, performed CPR and saved his life. Never underestimate the power that fear and uncertainty give you. They make you think, motivate you, pull you out of the mundane comfort of everyday life and give you a chance to do great things. If you don’t let them paralyze you.

Was Columbus certain where he would end up, when he sailed towards India? Most certainly not. The guy landed on a totally different continent! But it was great! He found something new and exciting. Do you think astronauts are absolutely certain they will come back from their missions safely? They don’t, and tragedies such as Apollo 1 show that they have every right to be uncertain. But they go into space anyway and experience things they never would working a 9-5 desk job.

If you try something new, if you strive to get better, more independent, freer, you will never feel certain. No matter whether you want to start you own company, study abroad, climb Mount Everest or hitchhike around Europe, there will always be an element of risk involved and you will never be 100% certain of the outcomes. Because freedom isn’t about certainty, or safety (although you should still try to foresee potential hazards and be ready for them). Freedom is about being your own man (or woman) and seizing good opportunities when they present themselves.

So take a risk and give yourself a chance! Try to publish that book you’ve been keeping in a drawer for years. Ask that girl out. Visit Africa. Go to a job interview. Register your start-up. Sure, maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you’ll get rejected. But, as Jack Nicholson said in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – at least you tried. Grab the reins of your uncertainty and gallop towards great things.