Right now is a sobering time to be a planner. We like to fool ourselves that we can predict the future, or at least map out its possibilities with forecasts, charts, and graphs. But the arrival of COVID-19 has been a potent reminder of how little we can say with certainty about the future. With every cancelled event, empty store shelf, accidental touch of the face, or unexpected government announcement, the limits of our planning have become abundantly clear. So it’s no surprise that between our work, our families, and our health, many of us are worrying about the future right now. Clearly plans alone can’t bring us peace.
So when plans fail us, how can we find peace?
- Accept that the Future is Uncertain
- Act to Honor Your Values
- Release Guilt about the Past
Accept that the Future is Uncertain
While the future’s uncertainty might seem obvious these days, knowing the future is uncertain is quite different from accepting it. My wife and I both have elderly parents with pre-existing health conditions. COVID-19 may take them from us early—there’s no way to know for sure. Millions of people have already lost their jobs, and many are already facing fundamental uncertainties about how to pay for food and housing. These are the facts.
Yet from these simple facts we can weave a multitude of stories—some truer than others. About how it will affect others but not us. About how it won’t be that bad (or will be even worse than we fear). About how we can control it with soap and masks (or essays on uncertainty). About how our leaders have already failed us (or that they’re just doing the best they can). About how it’s important to face these facts (or unhealthy to dwell on them). Whichever stories you believe most, in the end they’re just stories. The facts of the future remain uncertain.
So are you still surprised when your story doesn’t turn out to be true? Grief, anger, guilt, sure, those are natural to feel when things don’t go your way. But surprise? When the only the thing the future brings consistently is the unexpected? Behind the surprise often lurks a sense of unearned confidence that our story is 100% right—or fear that it’s wrong. Acceptance means…