As a part of our ChicagoNow blogging community, once a week we are invited to write about a particular topic, as a part of a series called This Blogger Life. Our topic this week is “The best advice I ever received.”
For me it wasn’t something someone said to me, it was something I ran across. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”
That’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. Or at least, the best piece of advice I can think of right now. Probably because once again I find myself at what looks like the bottom of a long flight of stairs.
Now to be completely clear, this is not a piece of advice I particularly like. In fact, it kind of pisses me off.
Because I’m the kind of gal who so desperately wants to see the whole staircase.
I want to know, before I start the hard work of making my way up a steep climb, where it’s going to take me. Is it going to be worth it? Is everything going to be all right? Or better than all right? You know…great???!!
That doesn’t seem like so much to ask, does it?
Some people, I’ve heard, find uncertainty exciting, charming, invigorating. I don’t know any of these people.
And I have never been one.
I find uncertainty makes me a swirling mass of crazy.
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, I’m not alone in this. In it, the author, Julia Beck, states, “As a rule, humans prefer certainty to uncertainty. Studies have shown that people would rather definitely get an electric shock now than maybe be shocked later, and show greater nervous-system activation when waiting for an unpredictable shock (or other unpleasant stimulus) than an expected one. Where people differ is in the degree to which uncertainty bothers them.”
In case you hadn't guessed by now, it bothers me a lot.
I try not to let it show, of course. I have cultivated the look of Zen-like calm on the outside.
When what I actually feel on the inside looks more like a hurricane crashing into a tsunami at a Ginsu Knives Convention.
You could get hurt in there.
Though, sometimes I think it would be better if I did let it show more.
My daughter Hannah texted me yesterday that she’s feeling very stressed about figuring out her living situation for next year, her junior year in college. Who she’s going to room with. Where she’s going to live. I didn’t say what I was really feeling when I heard this…I texted her back with some “good mother” words that were meant to sound calm and rational and encouraging. When, what I was really feeling was: ARGHHHHHHHHH!!! THAT’S TERRIFYING. I HATE THAT!!!
Which, now that I think of it, might have been what she really needed to hear. Just so she’d know she wasn’t alone in her complete and utter fear of all that we can’t know and control.
Because yes, if I had my way, I would say, “Screw uncertainty…” and see the whole staircase before I took a single step.
Unfortunately, I so rarely get my way. I get what I get.
We all get what we get, right?
Which isn’t a Bible verse, but it should be, and it would be, if I had been asked to write any portion of the Bible. In the 1st Book of Lenora, right there in Chapter 1, verse 1: “Verily, verily I say unto you, you get what you get. So what are you going to do about it?”
Which brings me back to the quote from King, which is the only answer I know. “Just take the first step.”
In the midst of all our shit-piles of anxiety, in the middle of our deep pools of freezing uncertainty, whether it’s about where you should live, what you should do for work, whether this relationship is the right one, whether you should be spending your time writing a blog, or what you should be doing with what time you have left on the planet, just take the first step. And then, when you’re ready, when you can, take another. And another. And another.
You can even take a big breath in between each one…that might help. Or sit down and cry if you need to. In fact, it’s ok if you need to fall apart completely, curl into a wet sobbing ball on one or two or twenty of the steps, it really is.
It doesn’t have to be a race up the stairs.
And if you do happen to fall down screaming on a stair or two, you’ll have company, at least. Because I’m pretty darn certain, I’ll be there, screaming too.
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