Try to imagine The Unknown for a moment.
It is difficult to do.
I imagine myself standing here, and that The Unknown is over there. It is within sight, maybe 20 meters or so away from me. It is a dark and shapeless form that is not familiar to me. If I look more closely though, I see that there are many versions of The Unknown ahead of me. Some closer, some further. Some smaller, some larger. When I zoom out, I see that The Unknown is in every direction that I look.
There are a few options for how I show up in the face of The Unknown.
First, I can choose to run away, in the opposite direction.
If The Unknown is in front of me, I can turn around and run the other way. The Unknown can be scary and intimidating. True to its name, it is “not known” to me. If I do not know, then how can I trust it.
When The Unknown manifests as a threat, like the few that trigger my flight or fight response system, it may make sense to run. COVID is an example of The Unknown that I choose to run away from by staying physically distant from others, wearing a mask in public spaces and being alert. This feels like the right relationship, for the safety of others and myself. The truth is though that the situations where it makes sense to run away from The Unknown are few and far between.
Another option is to choose to stay where I am, standing still, in the face of The Unknown.
I wait for The Unknown to become a little less unknown, and a little more known, before choosing. It is like an early morning mist which makes it difficult to see what’s ahead, so I wait. I stay stationary until I feel safe to move.
This response is to be paralyzed by The Unknown. It is when I over analyze, over complicate and over think how to be with The Unknown. The Unknown, by definition, has incomplete information and asks of me to make choices without the comfort of knowing.
Earlier this summer, I was speaking with a group of university students. The innocent question came, which it often does in mentorship settings, “how did you start a business out of school?”. My honest and candid response is “I did not think about it”. Had I thought more about starting a business, I would have found the many reasons to not start a business and would have not done so. There are always more reasons to not do something, especially if it is new and different, than to do it.
To wait for the mist in my mind to clear may take a lifetime, or worse, may never actually happen.
Another option in the face of The Unknown is to learn to walk towards it, and then into it.
To walk towards The Unknown is to not only acknowledge that it exists but to recognize that there is some attraction, some benefit, some curiosity, some hope, maybe even some excitement. Unlike the options to run away or stand still, to walk slowly, cautiously and carefully towards it is to begin to embrace The Unknown.
Several years ago, I received an email from a friend inviting a few of us to join her for an improv course. Prior to reading this email, I had never thought about improv. My mind was quick to dismiss the idea, the equivalent of me running away from The Unknown. I then realized how fast I was to dismiss something new and different, that I said to myself that I would at least think about it. This was the equivalent of standing still in the face of The Unknown.
Once I realized how fearful I was towards the idea of improv, I realized I had only one choice: to do it. However the idea of doing it with a group of friends terrified me even more, so I said “no thank you” to the invitation from my friend, and secretly signed up for a different course on my own. This is what it means to walk towards The Unknown, albeit slowly and cautiously.
In other words, it was a conditional embrace of The Unknown.
The only other option, outside of running away, standing still or walking into it, is to learn how to dance with The Unknown.
This is to truly embrace The Unknown, with a smile on my face. A sign that I feel secure, safe and grounded, while also inspired, free and open. Eliminating expectations, except on myself, to be open to being surprised and delighted. Confident that I will be able to handle whatever The Unknown throws my way, hopefully with some grace and gratitude.
A few years ago, I did an experiment to challenge my relationship with The Unknown. I asked a friend to pick a place for me to go alone, for the holidays, and to not tell me where. She could pick literally anywhere in the world and I would have no control or knowledge about what to expect. It was most definitely an adventure into The Unknown. I would go on to spend three and a half weeks on my own, opening envelopes every few days telling me where to go and what to do, in a place I had never visited before far away.
This was to dance with The Unknown.
I had no choice but to be open, to be present and to be willing to roll with whatever I would uncover and discover on this journey.
Life is a dance with The Unknown. Despite any belief to want to know, it is actually the last thing we want. If we knew everything that we believe we want to know about our world, about our future, about ourselves, we would lose all of our enthusiasm, excitement and energy in life.
The Unknown is what makes life interesting and desirable.
To dance with The Unknown is to be a little more open and a little less fearful, with a hint of curiosity and a dash of play.
We do not know, and that is the point.