Sooner or later, if you want to spend more of your time doing what matters to you, you’ll have to take a step into the unknown.
That very idea is enough to fire up your brain’s amydala, that ancient part of your noggin that tells you to take flight, fight or freeze. And in that moment when your brain is telling you that you’d better make the right decision or end up as dino-dinner, it’s oh-so-easy to persuade yourself that you’re better off not taking that step into the unknown after all.
I know you’ve been there.
As far as your brain’s concerned, the “known” is lovely and gives you the warm-fuzzies. The “unknown” is dark and gives you the cold shivers.
It’s a no-brainer (forgive the pun).
So it’s kind of a bummer then, that wanting to do something, build something or explore something you’ve never done before necessitates a moment where you have to cross the threshold from the known into the unknown.
The void is always just one step away
If you’re like me, there will have been a number of times you’ve held back from the brink and pulled back from taking that step into the unknown. Not getting out of my old career in corporate IT sooner, not taking up Mr Saatchi’s offer of work when I was 14 (yeah, really), choosing to hang out with my mates instead of dating the beautiful Elizabeth when I was 18.
It’s these times when your confidence shrivels like a prune in a pressure cooker.
Life’s way too short to regret those moments, but it’s fascinating to wonder what might have happened if we’d have taken those steps into the unknown, isn’t it?
I guess we’ll never know
Standing at the mouth of the void, in the midst of the self-doubt, fear and second-guessing, you have to create enough space to gather your natural confidence so you can make a meaningful choice. Any one of the points below (each of which I’ve learned personally) can help you do that.
You’re not going to die
Relax. Taking a step or two forwards is not gonna kill you (I’m assuming you’re not standing in front of a threshing machine here). You’ve made it this far, and you’ll continue to live far beyond this moment and the next moment. Take the pressure off yourself – you’ll be fine.
Life is more unknown than known
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy“, said that bloke from Hamlet. It’s true, there will always be more that’s unknown in life than is known, and living your life purely within the realm of what’s known will not only cut out the very best that life has to offer, but ensures you’ll get smaller and smaller, year after year.
There is no spoon
The rules are made up, just as your expectations about what you should and shouldn’t do, ought and oughtn’t do, could and couldn’t do are works of fiction. When faced with taking that step into the unknown, be sure to sweep aside your rules, assumptions and expectations. There is no spoon.
Your breath goes in and out of your body all day long. Your life depends on it. Using your breath as an anchor to being present can take you out of the drama that’s created by your thoughts and back to the simplicity and grace of the moment. Don’t force your breath to be a certain way or try to regulate it. Let it be however it is, and move your attention to it. Breathe. Just breathe.
There’s always room
Stepping into the void does not mean that the die is irrevocably cast and that your future is certain. There’s a stream of unknowns ahead of you, and there’s always room to make a confident decision based on what you’ve learned and what matters to you the most.
A seismic change happens when you start responding to the moment where you need to step into the void with natural confidence (which doesn’t preclude you shaking in your boots, by the way) instead of default action based on fear.
It doesn’t change the fact that you need to cross that gap and take that step, but it sure as hell makes it easier.
So, what have you been avoiding stepping into?