I don’t know whether I should jump back into my art career after neglecting it for the past three years.
I don’t know whether the risky relationship shift I just negotiated with my husband will draw us closer together or drive us further apart.
I don’t know whether I should say yes to the guy who wants to help me develop a Whole Health Medicine training certification program.
I don’t know whether moving my 6-year old daughter out of our attachment-parenting bedroom down three flights of stairs into her own bedroom will be good for her or not.
I could go on…but I won’t bore you with the vastness of what confuses me. Instead, I’ll ask you a question.
Can you make peace—even love—all the question marks in your life?
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and dreams. Try to love the questions themselves.”
Making Peace With Unknowing
I love being certain. I mean I really love being certain. As a doctor, certainty is a value drilled into us over and over. Nobody wants a doctor who stands in front of a bleeding patient, hedging over whether or not to rush the person to an operating room. Definitive orders are respected and followed. Question marks are not tolerated.
Yet, I’ll let you in on a little secret your doctor doesn’t want you to know. Very, very often…we just don’t know. Should I let the pregnant woman keep laboring? Or should I perform a C-section now to protect the baby? Should I close the incision when that artery is still oozing? Or should I risk making it bleed more by fussing with it? Should I prescribe this risky drug, knowing the patient might have a negative outcome? Or should I recommend lifestyle modifications first, knowing the patient could have a heart attack because I withheld the medication?
The only thing certain in life is uncertainty. Yet, I was taught not to tolerate uncertainty. The residents in my class at Northwestern often made fun of one of our professors who spouted off nonsense a lot of the time, but he spouted it with such authority. “Often wrong, never uncertain,” they said about him. Trust me, this was not a compliment. Yet, there is little room in medical culture for simply saying “I don’t know.”
I’m still recovering, trying to not only find peace, but actually love and accept all that I don’t know, not only about medicine, but even more importantly, about living a good life, doing my soul’s work, raising a healthy child, being a good wife…
I want guarantees. I want to know, for certain, that I won’t regret my decision, that I’ve made the “right” one, that there will be nothing but happily-ever-afters. But the world doesn’t work that way… Sometimes we just don’t know—and every decision is simultaneously a best guess, a leap of faith, a mistake-in-the-making, an opportunity for regret, and a possibility for a richer, more deeply fulfilling life.
Letting Go Of Ego
Part of my quest to love the questions has required distancing myself from my ego (who I lovingly call Victoria Rochester, and who you can read about here. Victoria LOVES being certain. Much of her identity has historically been founded upon knowing the right answers—making straight A’s, making the “right” medical decision, following the “right” codes of morality. But this is just a tool for Victoria—something she uses so she can feel superior to those who are uncertain or doing it “wrong.”
My Inner Pilot Light, however, doesn’t care about being certain or right. My Inner Pilot Light loves the questions and recognizes the beauty of the humility not knowing induces. My Inner Pilot Light thinks admitting what I don’t know is vulnerable and brave and makes room for curiosity, mistakes, imperfections, growth, and fresh new opportunity. After all, the flip side of uncertainty is possibility.
Are You Willing To Not Know?
All those unresolved things in your mind and your heart and your dreams—can you love them? Can you be exceptionally kind to yourself in spite of—even because of—the not knowing? I know you’re trying to make a decision.
Maybe you’re thinking of quitting your job. Maybe you’re trying to decide whether to propose to your significant other. Maybe you’re considering having a baby. Maybe you’re on the fence about whether to end a not great but not terrible marriage. Maybe you don’t know whether to agree to the treatment or sign up for grad school or move to New York or sell your house.
Maybe you’re just not sure what to make for dinner or whether to add blue to your painting.
Take Your Time
Knowing that few life decisions comes with money-back guarantees, it’s easy to get paralyzed into inaction. Paralysis can be a potent form of self-sabotage. But it can also be your inner wisdom telling you to simply love the question—to move slowly—or not at all—to ease into your decision, to simply wait.
What if it’s okay to not know right now? What if what you need is more time to get clear on what is in alignment with your truth?
Are you trying to make a decision? Are willing to simply love the question? Tell us your story.
With love and uncertainty,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.