Last weekend Thom and I did a podcast interview with two new friends—Mary and Kevin Roberts. Their podcast Growth Minded Marriage is one I’ve recently started listening to because I appreciate their emphasis on growth as well as their honesty and connection with each other. During the podcast (link below) we talked about each of our WOTYs. My word, as you might recall, is trust. Thom’s is perspective, while Mary’s is patience. Then Kevin announced that his word was “uncertainty.” While I think all of them are uniquely important, I cannot help but admire both Kevin’s courage and his willingness in these uncertain times to embrace such a word. I suppose that is why it has been on my mind so much during the last week. Plus I believe it holds some SMART insights for us all as well.
I looked back and I’ve written about uncertainty several times in the last 10 years here on SMART Living. But it’s one thing to write about it, or even think about it, and another to LIVE it! When 2020 started, uncertainty and change were regular occurrences, but often felt theoretical. Then at some point with the arrival of the virus, our tumultuous political field and the threatened world around us, circumstances began changing in rapid ways. If we are still here reading these words we managed to limp through it all and still be alive. But let’s face it, even though it’s 2021, uncertainty is still knocking at our door nearly every day.
I think a lot of us are hopeful about what will be happening shortly in the political arena, but I’m also aware that another bunch are convinced that the end times are upon us. Yet, if we “get to make it up” then both are right. However, it’s likely that the bigger truth is that neither group knows for sure what will happen next, how it will happen, and what will come next. The same with the vaccine. Who knows? How do we balance that in our minds and how do we stay at peace in the face of all the unknowns? And how can we plan for anything, really?
Again, some of my other blog posts offer some really helpful ideas, but I’m leaving those for further reading. What occurred to me during our interview with Kevin and Mary is that uncertainty doesn’t demand that we just give up or give in to what is going on around us. Mainly, what I believe it asks of me, is to just flow with it.
Thom has a word that serves him well that is called wu-wei. That word come from Lao Tzu who is the supposed wisdom behind the Taoist Philosophy. Wu-wei is usually interpreted as “action without action” or “effortless doing.” A more western interpretation is “flow.” I like to think of it as getting in a rowboat and going with the current rather than against it. (Remember the childhood song of Row, row, row your boat?”)
Sure, we can think about getting in our little boat and rowing like crazy to go upstream. And some of us clearly do that , even if we know better. Anytime our life feels like a battle or struggle we are attempting to go against the flow of the river—and guess what, we will likely fail. How could we not? On the other hand, sometimes our actions flow so naturally, without effort, that everything seems to be going in our favor. The question is: Why do we ever forget the difference?
For me I only go against the current if I’ve decided that I want something so bad that I am willing to go against my own nature and life-itself to get it. I also struggle with my interpretation of fairness or justice. But again, I don’t think that works. It might bring a bit of satisfaction or seem to work in the short term, but over the long haul we will wear ourselves out and down. Eventually we will be forced to turn our little boat around and return to the flow of the water.
So what does any of this have to do with me being a planner? During the last couple of weeks with all the uncertainty and change in my life, I decided one way to deal with it was to put myself in my happy place. Where’s that? Why travel planning of course! When my boat is headed in that direction, I can get totally absorbed in traveling the world and where I want to go just about anytime I choose. The thing is, I am also VERY aware that things can and will change. Remember 2020?
So how does that fit with wu-wei? Well it occurred to me while talking with Mary & Kevin that the best way for me to approach my planning (and my future) would be to make plans downstream. Allow my imagination to research and go where it wants in the days ahead, knowing full well that timing and other circumstances need to be considered (i.e. we won’t go anywhere until after we are both vaccinated against COVID.) And sure, other things can and will happen as well. However, even with travel plans downstream, I must remain unattached to them turning out exactly as planned.
In other words, make plans but stay flexible about them. Keep my expectations loose and flow with the possibility that things could likely turn out much differently. Don’t give up the pleasure I get with planning, just don’t get rigid or concrete about them. Flow. And don’t make it always about having to give something up or lose something. Be open to the possibility that things could turn out even better than before when they do change. The problem isn’t with planning—it is always being attached to my preconceived outcomes.
I constantly remind myself that change is part of being human. Stuff happens. Besides, I love adventure and seeing and experiencing new things, so why would I ever resist it? When I remember to see change and uncertainty as just curves in the river that I can’t yet see around, I remain optimistic and resilient. As usual, the SMART perspective is remembering that in every moment we get to choose whether we attempting to fight the current or go with the flow. And if all else fails, just hum a few bars of row, row, row your boat.
Here is a link to the Growth Minded Marriage Podcast featuring Thom and I. We not only talked with Mary & Kevin about our words-for-the-year, but also touched on rightsizing, relationships, and a growth mindset. I encourage you all to listen if interested.