Transposing emblem by Javier Gómez

“Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing’.”
― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

We are instructed to build our lives to avoid uncertainty on every possible level. Even in our childhood, one of the most frequent questions we are asked is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We are urged to plot a course for our future and walk that path without deviation.  We fear the unknown, perhaps more than anything else. While that emotion manifests itself on a very basic level as our fear of the dark, it is certainly present in every aspect of our existence. We can tolerate a Monday to Friday job because we more or less know what to expect from our daily routine, and the weekend is always waiting for us. On less obvious levels, the unknown is also the enemy. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we often try to concoct it instead of simply admitting our ignorance. In social situations, we try to come across as knowledgeable and witty, and it’s easier to smile and nod if we have no clue about what’s being discussed. Perhaps that’s why we hoard data and facts and trivia in our heads compulsively, yet we fail to invest time in getting to know ourselves. We close many doors without even peeking behind them, especially when it comes to our minds and personalities. For years, I created an identity based on what I do for a living and the various forms of art that I enjoy. I surrounded myself with people who behaved in a similar way, and we were all perched in our mountain of absolutisms and hyperboles, looking down on everyone and everything that didn’t fit into our sphere of interest. Almost without realizing it, I had become what I hated the most: an arrogant, smug intellectual who hid all his insecurities behind sarcasm and irony. Cheers to me.

As time went on, the road took me to different countries and cultures and the know-it-all façade started to crack. It was slow at first, some instances of “maybe,” “huh,” and “I didn’t know that” started to pop-up in my speech. I could no longer have long discussions about people and places that I only knew from books or websites. I started questioning social axioms. I left my 100% science-oriented mind and started to dabble in a more holistic point of view about the world, health and well-being. Meditation replaced medication and I started fighting causes instead of symptoms. I took a deep dive into uncertainty about myself, my career, my whole life. During that process, a pattern started to emerge. Whenever I had no idea about something, be it a person, a place or an activity, my old self fought to re-emerge and tried to form a mental image of it based on what I thought I knew. I had to remind myself that in order to learn, I needed to admit that I didn’t have the answers.  I had to face the fact that I was either wrong or uninformed about a plethora of subjects, and that was great because it left room for growth.

Several years passed and I became too comfortable in my new point of view. I knew who I was, I knew what my profession was and I thought I knew how I wanted to live. Except that I really didn’t, and I didn’t know I didn’t. In May 2017, someone very important for me died. She was my grandmother, but she was always a sort of inadvertent philosophical teacher. As it usually happens, I didn’t process it right away. I kept going with my daily routine for several months until a New Year’s trip to Scandinavia gave me time to ponder existence while contemplating frozen, desolate landscapes. And thus I found out that something was off. That the death of the wisest woman I have ever known had hit me harder than I wanted to admit because it forced me to look closer at what I was doing with my time. And the answer was that I wasn’t sure. Uncertainty had painted all the roadmaps. I entered full existential crisis mode; something that I thought only had a place in my teenage years. You know that hollow feeling when you stare through the window and everything looks gray and half-dead? Well, I do live in England and it’s usually gray here, but you get the idea. It took me several months to understand that I had to embrace the magic of not having a clue in order to understand it. What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? Will I have a different answer tomorrow? I still don’t know, but I’m happy with it because it means I can be anything I like for as long as I want. Uncertainty shouldn’t necessarily mean being afraid. It can also mean flexibility of thought, of ideas, of emotions. Your path does not need to be a straight line set from the get-go. And I already knew it, but I didn’t really know it. I still struggled to hold on to certainty because it was safer. Even in a freelance life, I had found a routine and a set of relatively unchangeable aspects that defined a comfort zone. We are all programmed to do that, but we also know that we can change it. Is it easy? No, it’s not. Is it fun? It can be if you allow it. At least I know it’s a better use of your time than wondering how that trip, that job, that activity or that place would be while you tell yourself that now is not the right moment to try it. But what do I know? I am full of uncertainty.