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It is OK to Not Know

Freedom – do you want it? Ask any teenagers and they would tell you their desire for freedom.

The reality though, is when parental authority steps aside, what you would soon discover is that you now have to face direct exposure to the more complex and arbitrary demands of society. You would also soon learn that you are to be responsible for each and every decision you make.

These realizations inevitably revise some ideas you had about freedom that the younger you were looking forward to, but which you now learn are really fraudulent ideals. With freedom comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes anxiety and fear – What if I make the wrong decision? Is everything going to work out in the end? It is both terrifying and exciting to have a blank page in front of you.

Life is indeed filled with constant uncertainty, and as if it is not chaotic and overwhelming enough, you are also continually bombarded with information, much of it contradictory. The good news though – you are not alone in this (Google will assure you of this). Managing ambiguity and the unknown —be it in your career path, your relationships, your daily lives – is becoming an essential skill. But, how?

A solitary figure stands at a crossroads in a dense, enchanting forest. Two diverging paths, bathed in dappled sunlight, stretch out before them. The decision is evident in their contemplative gaze, capturing the essence of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." The image encapsulates the universal theme of life's choices and the uncertainty that accompanies pivotal moments.

Jamie Holmes, the author of “Nonsense” tells us that there is an upside to the frustrating uncertainty in life. He cited a decision scientist Agnieszka Tymula’s study in 2012 in this argument. Tymula’s study suggested adolescents to be less risk-tolerant than adults, in spite of their often wild behaviour. An adolescent’s tolerance of ambiguity, they found, is what compels teens to test the unknown. Instead of perceiving uninhibited behaviour as the product of underdeveloped brains, her research suggests that teens are programmed to explore what they are yet to understand. Holmes thus argues that rather than seeing uncertainty as solely negative, researchers are revealing ambiguity to be a powerful cognitive force that motivates our brains to creativity and exploration.

It is possible I never learned the names of birds in order to discover the bird of peace, the bird of paradise, the bird of the soul, the bird of desire. It may be I never learned geography the better to map my own routes and discover my own lands. The unknown was my compass. The unknown was my encyclopedia. The unnamed was my science and progress.

– Anais Nin

In other words, let us consider the option of allowing the unknown to guide us, to ask questions but be patient in seeking answers. If we allow the questions to be the centre of our attention, our mind becomes preoccupied and our sight becomes clouded; and we become stagnant.

Of course, that being said, it does feel better to have some constants to remind us of where we stand. Reconnect with your constants – be it family, friends, food, movies, yourself. At the end of the day, in spite of the uncertainty in life, these constants are what matter. Hold onto them, be grateful for your constants, and allow them to support you as you embrace the uncertainty in life.

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