Year 2020, Skill #3: Embrace Uncertainty and Failure

You create your life, and you can recreate it, too. In times of economic downturn and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to look deep inside yourself to fathom the sort of life you really want to lead and the talents and passions that can make that possible.              -Sir Kenneth Robinson

If you’re feeling frightened about what comes next…don’t. Embrace the uncertainty. Allow it to lead you places. Be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind as you create your own path towards happiness. Don’t waste time with regret… And if you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over. Retrace your steps and go back to the purest place in your heart, where your hope lives. You’ll find your way again… -Julia Brown, character on Everwood

Embrace Uncertainty

On my first day of “teaching online,” I failed in every way—beginning Sunday night. I stayed up until nearly 3 am binge watching what is probably the longest running medical drama in the history of American television. Then I slept until almost 10 am and drank coffee perusing social media and the news until 11:00. Finally, I “got to work.” I sat at my newly appointed home office, in the yoga pants and tee I slept in the night before and signed on to read emails, figure out more about the online platforms for our classroom, while I texted my TA, answered emails from lost and anxious students, followed 3 different listservs researching practice guidelines in a pandemic (insert eye roll here as there are none), went down innumerable rabbit holes on HIPAA compliant videoconferencing, fielded calls and texts from equally lost colleagues, and really never got anything tangible done.

Amy showed up late afternoon at my front door to graciously offer some broccoli soup she’d made from some of the abundant broccoli I’d over-bought, and shared with her. She gave me a long hard look up and down. I’m pretty sure her thought bubble said something like, “wow.” My frizzy excuse for hair was standing straight out, I was barefoot, and I don’t think I’d eaten all day.

Failure: Not my normal

Friends, I was failing at every skill on which I’d advised others the week before.

I felt like I’d been asked to collect a bucket of marbles which had been thrown all over my house.

Uncertainty has become our new normal.

The truth is, we probably all feel like we’re failing to some degree right now. We simply don’t have a template for this time of “sheltering in place.” We’ve probably never dealt with being warned that our mere presence with another could make them sick. Who could imagine that we could be contagious with a deadly disease well before we show any symptoms.

Welcome to 2020.

Almost everyone is anxious to some degree, if for no other reason than we don’t know what will happen next.

Uncertainty has become our new normal.

Uncertainty: New normal

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves — regret for the past and fear of the future. –Fulton Oursler, author & journalist

Whether it is social speculation, the queries in therapy sessions, or even my personal conversations, the questions are the same, “When will this pass? What will normal life look like? When can I expect to go back to the office? Will the kids be able to go back to school this spring? What can we expect about sports? (Or any other collective avocation for that matter? –Theater, music performances, festivals, outdoor markets, eating out, family gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, all of those things we do in large groups…)

Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll know more in about a month.

Uncertainty & Relief

This global-wide pause button has provided some relief –and relief is the unspeakable emotion right now. It’s kind of like when someone has been a caregiver for a loved one who dies: how do you say that you are relieved that the person you love so much is gone? Surprisingly, It is actually quite common and there is generally even more relief if I speak those words first, guessing that relief lies under the surface somewhere. The relief is quickly followed by guilt.

This global-wide pause button has provided some relief — and relief is the unspeakable emotion right now. The relief is quickly followed by guilt.

A Recent Example

I could hear that relief in his voice when we had our tele-session. He is one of those people who is not particularly fond of school—in fact, he considered dropping out last year. His athletic season, like all sports, is indefinitely on hold. Gone are his reasons for an intense training schedule. Working online takes much less time. He is free to follow his artistic passions and hoped-for career dreams. And now he has the time to do that. “Honestly, doc? I feel bad because I feel so great. This is the best I’ve felt in a very long time. I hate to say that because of how bad this all is.” His relief and radiance shone through the phone.

Honestly? I understand.

Maybe there is a lesson here. We are all operating at a completely different pace and in different spaces. I am watching families reconnect. People strolling all hours of the day and night, talking together, walking the dog. Riding bicycles. Beautifying their yards. Planting gardens. Playing games at home. My daughters, who live about 1000 miles apart, had a videochat last week and one helped the other rearrange the furniture in her house. Now Amy’s daughter is helping us (since she has unexpected available time) make some creative upgrades on our blog site.

Honestly? Maybe, we are, on an interpersonal level, doing just fine.

Uncertainty & Loss

But let me be clear: I am painfully aware that people are out of work. Small businesses will undoubtedly close. And I am sick for all of those people. As someone with a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit myself, I can’t stop thinking about the impact on our communities. It has been the rabbit hole of my own dark places of worry as I have inordinate appreciation for the people who color our communities in this way. My own daughter has been out of work for almost 3 weeks now when the small business where she worked closed. Indefinitely. That small café may or may not recover when this is over. And this is like so many…

We will grieve deeply for the gifts of spirit and souls that are lost.

And people are paying with the high price of their lives. Our town just lost the first person to COVID-19 this week—a beloved and generous and wise elder by all accounts of her life. These losses cannot be recouped. We will grieve deeply for the gifts of spirit and souls that are lost.

Uncertainty & Finding our way

The second quote by a fictional character at the beginning of this blog is long but I believe it captures this dilemma. In the scene from which this is drawn, the character, Julia Brown, has died. The monologue is her valedictory to her beloved son. Without warning, I was moved to tears when I read this. The lesson? Our challenge is to turn inward. Do not spend time with regret, the enemy of your resilient spirit. But instead, look in to your deepest place and ask, “What is important to my heart? What are my talents and passions? How do I bring my energy in line with my heart and mind?”

Year 2020, Skill #3: Embrace Uncertainty and Failure Click To Tweet

It’s hard to find much that is certain when we look outward at our world right at this moment. Look inward. Search for what is certain inside you. Deep inside. Go back to the purest place in your heart. Listen intently.

These are the messiest of times. The marvelous resides within. Look there to find the path to your new normal.


Rhea Ann Merck, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist, persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, passionate about making life better every day…


All photos taken by my talented, dear friend, Dr. Rhonda Grego.

Everwood (2005, Season 3, episode 21, Good To Go, available free on IMDB)

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