Be where you are: the myth of “figuring it out”

January 27, 2016 LifeWriting  4 comments

I find myself always trying to “figure things out”. 

For the most part, whatever I’m trying to figure out is a preemptive attempt to thwart future anxiety by freaking the fuck out in the present in a scrambling attempt to solve a problem that isn’t even a problem yet. 

It’s like trying to figure out an answer when I don’t even know what the question is. 

Let me give you an example. 

I’ll try to figure out what kind of career I would pursue if my circumstances changed tomorrow. Would I go back to school? For Archeology, maybe? Or Anthropology? Or what about grad school for Psychology? Sociology? Could I picture myself as an Environmental Scientist? Maybe I’d just stick with Barnes and Noble. Or would that get old and unfulfilling after a while? WHAT WILL I DO?

Or I try to figure out what my path would have looked like if my circumstances had been different. In the plethora of ways that things could have been different, what would I have done, then? What would the outcome have looked like? What steps would I have taken to get there? Would I be the same person I am today? Would I be different? How? And how can I control for that?

I literally try to work through every step in my head to try to come to some kind of coherent understanding of how things would’ve played out. To some how know that, in the end, everything would’ve worked out fine. 

That in the end, I would be fine. 

There are other ways this “figuring out” manifests. If I drive a BMW instead of a Nissan, what does that say about who I am as a person? Does that make me shallow and vapid? If I wear a flannel shirt and boots today, but a dress with wedges tomorrow, who does that make me? (A person who wears clothes?) What will I do if I grow tired of kickboxing and don’t want to do it anymore? What intense fat-burning workout will I turn to then? Because I like being fit and in shape. (Spinning, Zumba, TRX, the possibilities are literally endless.)

It has been said by many a famous writer that in order to consider yourself a “real writer” writing has to be something you can’t not do. And since I don’t want to see myself as a fraud, and I want to feel good about pursing it full-time while I have the opportunity to do so, I try and figure out how I would schedule my day to have time to write on the side if I had a full-time job. Would I rise with the dawn to get in an hour or two of writing each morning? Would I write in the evenings? (I will address more on this topic in a later post.)

I have wasted countless hours of my mental capacity thinking about stupid, useless, petty shit like this. 

And I’m pretty sure that is the colloquial definition of insanity. 

I know that a lot of this thought process stems from a history of anxiety and uncertainty

When the events that take place in your life have the tendency of turning your whole world upside down at a moments notice, and you don’t know what’s just around the corner, you start to expect the worst to happen. So you plan. And you plan. And you plan some more in the hopes that if you plan diligently enough, you can circumvent some of the negative consequences of the unforeseen circumstances. 

I’ve always known how pointless and ridiculous this act of “figuring it out” is. But, for the longest time, I could not stop myself from going down that rabbit hole. It was a compulsion. I’d be two hours into researching a plan, trying to find answers to this unknowable question, and no matter how frustrated and angry I became at myself for wasting time when there were more important tasks I actually needed to be getting done, I just could not stop myself. I had to make a plan. I had to figure it out. So that everything would be okay. 

But for some time now, (thanks, I think, to the many Podcasts I listen to on a weekly basis) I’ve been exploring some ways to break up this cycle. Some way I can squash this compulsion to know right in its tracks. 

The answer at it’s most basic, is the opposite of the question. The opposite of “figuring it out” is being okay with uncertainty. Being okay with not knowing. (And I know it’s not just me. Americans, as a whole, hold a deeply imbedded cultural fear of not knowing.)

So, this not knowing is something I’ve been opening up to. It’s quite a large, solid thing to wrap your head around. 

But what helps me chip away at this craggy boulder –crack it wide open– is knowing that I can’t plan for adventures I do not know of yet.

What I can do, is show up everyday, in the moment, and assess from there.

And it’s that showing up in the moment and being honest with myself, that allows me to make the best, clarified, objective decisions for what do next. 

Things are constantly changing. Are always in flux. Chances are if you plan too early, the plan will not work, because you weren’t working off the most accurate, up-to-date intel. 

I can’t make a concrete, absolute decision about what I would do if everything in my life went belly-up tomorrow, simply because I’m not there. So I don’t know what I would do. What I’d chose to do theoretically, from right here and right now, would probably be vastly different than if I found myself in the reality of that situation at another point in time. 

So here’s what I tell myself when I find myself getting caught up in “figuring it out”:

Show up. Pay attention. Be where you are at. Live the life you’re in. Explore and experiment. And know that, you got this. 
After all, you’ve gotten this far, haven’t you?

(I’m so nice and reassuring when I talk to myself in italics.)


Until next time, farewell & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity. 


Photo creds: Jeff Zwier


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4 comments to Be where you are: the myth of “figuring it out”

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