EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the fourth in a series intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. Embracing Ambiguity received an email in response to a recent post, that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. In celebration of Embracing Ambiguity’s milestone, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING” and “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it.” It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these (and other) prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase its reach. Happy reading.
From this week’s prompt: How do we make the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING?! What if, at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit, and it’s really just about the narrative you tell yourself about what you’re doing, why and how you feel about it? What if it’s as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it? How do we ever know anything if it’s as easy as telling yourself that one thing is right and another is wrong?
…So, it was a nice, light email for a Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting at my desk at work when it landed at the top of my inbox. Anna, in her characteristic way, had managed to cut to the heart of my recent blog post, and ask all the right questions. The effect of which, this time, was to send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and uncertainty. Thaaaanks Anna. (<3)
Though it was unknown to her at the time, the email – and the flood of thoughts, questions and panic that followed – was coming on the heels of a rather large, relevant, terrifying and sudden life event: at the end of the month I would no longer be employed.
Part my choice, part a sped up decision to reflect the needs and desires of my team and organization, the life shift meant that, once again, I would be floating into the void of decision making, fear, uncertainty and ambiguity that I have, in past, referred to as the black hole.
Like many people my age, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty (if this blog was any clue…). Raised through an education system that mercilessly pushes you toward “success” (read: good grades, the “academic” stream, a university education), I have become engulfed by this idea of “working it all out.” And how could I not be?
After all, grade school was never particularly challenging and so it was always made clear – by teachers, peers and guidance counsellors – that the “academic” stream in high school was the place for me. When I continued to excel in secondary school, University was the next logical step – I wouldn’t want to “throw away” my grades and potential, after all.
On top of this, I was – on a daily basis and like pretty much everyone around me – fed the lie that university education = job = stability = “it all worked out” = university education, etc.
As logic dictated, I went to university after graduating high school and after grinding my way through four meaningless years (from an education point of view) I graduated that, too. I was, then, somewhat surprised by the discovery that no one gave two shits about my major in Peace and Conflict Studies (But it’s from the Munk School of Global Affairs!! He cried, to no one in particular).
And so, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty. The exact opposite has been drilled into my head consistently, since the day I successfully printed my name from left to right. I grew up on a straight path with one start and end point (education -> career). Is it any wonder that now, finding myself amid a large, open field, I was at a loss?
Compounding all of this, is the fact that I have always held my values close to my chest. The result is an, at times, paralyzing amount of thought that goes into even the smallest of life decisions. Is this really what I want? Is this the kind of impact I want to be having? Is it enough? Am I really happy?
You can see, perhaps, how the combination of these two things may act as a recipe for ambiguity (lollll).
All of this is just to say, that as I sat and digested my 28 days and counting of employment, as I pondered all of this yet again and considered just WHAT the hell I was going to do with my life, Anna’s questions struck something of a chord.
It’s this idea of “the narrative we tell ourselves” in particular, that stuck.
As someone interested and experienced in storytelling, the idea of narrative is one that is often on my mind. In response to Anna’s questions, I began to consider my own narrative – the one I tell myself about the world and the place I occupy within it. Some of this will be familiar to those of you who read my last post, but:
I very strongly believe that life should be filled with meaning. Within that, I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people, and in doing so, my aim is to leave behind more than I take. I want to live my life in service of this planet and these people and I’m terrified of complacency and settling for something that “pays the bills” and nothing more. I want to change the world. Or, at very least (and more realistically), the tiny fraction of it which I occupy. Failing that, I want to go out knowing that, if nothing else, I fucking tried. Because I’d rather be wrong and moving than right and stationary.
And maybe I am very full of myself in saying that. Maybe I’m giving into an inflated sense of self importance. Maybe it is (it definitely is) a privileged thing to even have the ability to say. And maybe, it’s all for not. Maybe, it is, as Tim Minchin once said in a commencement address:
“I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist after 13.8 billion years’ worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them.”
Even if you don’t ascribe to such an extreme view, maybe, it is, as Anna says:
“What if at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit and it’s really just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it?”
OR MAYBE, it is, as another friend, Sarah, recently said to me:
“I don’t believe in right and wrong and good or bad, I believe in choice and consequence.”
If I’m choosing sides and swearing fealty, it’s in somewhere in between these last two bits of wisdom that my allegiance lies.
Because the “right thing” has to matter. It has to. Life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. It has too.
Because for all of our shittiness and intolerance and absurdity and injustice, humanity is – for all intents and purposes – pretty fucking beautiful. And sure, it needs a little poking and a little direction every now and again (read: pretty constantly). It sure as hell is not perfect. And it never will be. But it is, and can be, so much.
And maybe I’ve naïve as all fuck to think that I can alter anything, but if in my 90 some odd years in this body on this planet I manage to inspire, affect or alter one person – hell, one moment in time – I’ll consider it 90 years well spent.
So it has to matter. It has too.
Because if the “right thing” is bullshit, and if it is just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it, if it is as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it, then my narrative – the thing I choose to tell myself – is that it does matter.
I won’t, and can’t, believe anything else.
Because it has too. If I get to consciously decide what has meaning, then I choose this life and the decisions that impact EVERYTHING. I choose my actions. I choose working hard day in and day out for whatever I’ve naively decided in that moment, day, month or year is the “greater good.” I choose saying fuck you to a life of complacency, comfort and routine – to a job that is misaligned from the values I hold dear. I choose the path that is uncertain, difficult, stressful and, at times, emotionally exhausting – it will be my reminder that I’m doing something that truly matters to me, if no one else.
Because it has to. The “right thing” can’t be bullshit. It can’t. Because “choice and consequence.” Because if it is, what’s the alternative?
For all its beauty, this world is also one of poverty, injustice, war, sexism, racism, systemic inequality, animal abuse, child abuse, rampant exploitation, environmental degradation, climate change – pick your fucking issue – in the world of all this…shit, what’s the alternative?
For all those wide eyed University frosh with dreams of “changing the world,” for all those who mature and learn and grow and become leaders through the Oxfams and the Amnestys and the War Childs and the UNICEFs of the world, what’s the alternative to unending, youthful optimism, hope, and the pursuit of meaning? The pursuit of the “right thing?”
I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter.
Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. To quote my friend Sarah, once again:
“How could a person not just be totally floored by everything??”
And I’m not saying that any of this makes the hard, complicated, stressful, shitty and unending process of “figuring it out” any easier – my naiveté only extends so far – I’m just saying that it gives you a reason to do it.
Because it has to matter.
Until next time.