The Uncertainty Principle; Practical advice for embracing mystery

Search “uncertain future” in Google and you will receive 56,000,000 results in .04 seconds. If you are feeling the negative affects of uncertainty in your emotions, take heart – others who also are feeling it surround you!


Over the past few months, I’ve been working closely with many people experiencing the effects of uncertainty, and the price they (we) have been paying emotionally, mentally and even physically is significant. Some of these people are going through work-related uncertainty due to role changes and/or the possibility of dismissal because of corporate downsizing. Others are going through health-related uncertainty, such as the second round of cancer therapy or a battery of tests to determine the unknown cause of symptoms they are experiencing.

As I reflect on our collective wrestle with uncertainty, I find myself wondering: “When did we ever truly have certainty?” To feel that something is certain does not necessarily make it so. The employees I spoke to through several interactive keynote presentations did not feel uncertain until the company announced its downsizing initiatives. An otherwise healthy person may take his life for granted until a check-up reveals that the shoulder pain he’s been experiencing is actually lung cancer. An entrepreneur may launch out on a new and exciting venture with passion and confidence, but then falter and lose confidence as bills mount and billings tarry. “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” —Robbie Burns

The Uncertainty Principle

“The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known.” —Werner Heisenberg

For those who are Breaking Bad fans and haven’t yet looked it up, Heisenberg was a German physicist and founder of quantum mechanics, and is possibly best known for the uncertainty principle in quantum theory. (Rest easy, this article isn’t about quantum theory, mechanics or physics.)

When I first read this quote I was encouraged. I interpreted it through the eyes of my personal uncertainty. My life has been (and is) a series of mini-expeditions; each one a new stage in my journey. Each time I embark on a new expedition, there is a renewed momentum, but also uncertainty, because my position again becomes difficult to know. I suppose that in this context I prefer uncertainty to immobility, for if I’m not moving, there may be little uncertainty, though it’s also possible that I would be experiencing no momentum, as if frozen, imprisoned or shackled.

It is easy for me to see why I wrestle with uncertainty. If the formula was so simple as to account for my movement, I alone would be in control. However, this isn’t the case, for the whole world is changing exponentially – whether I move or not, making certainty an impossible determination!

Here are a couple of practical tips in handling your specific uncertainty:

1. Embrace it – without fear. We learn the most about ourselves though our mistakes and challenges, all of which provides us with a greater opportunity for growth. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” is true. I recently spoke to someone who is going through the second round of treatment for cancer. He says that this challenge has awakened him to meaning in life and has called him to live more fully out of his true self.

2. Stay open – You don’t know what you don’t know. I wonder why it is that our mind most often gravitates to the negative perspective. Why do we assume that a change we perceive as negative actually is? It’s possible that the change will be a positive (yes, even terminal cancer).

3. Know the source and purpose of your strength. Who have you been uniquely created, crafted and positioned to serve? The strength is in the created and crafted part. If you are having a difficult time believing in your own strength, note that Step Two in Alcoholics Anonymous is “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

4. Don’t journey alone. Isolation is a sure path to being overwhelmed and broken down by the negative effects of uncertainty. We all need others in our lives to remind us that we don’t see all there is to see, or know all there is to know, about our situation.
As I re-read this article, I note that I’m not always the best at following my own advice. I have often isolated myself, and abandoned my spirit to the negative voices in my head. Seems like it might be a good time to reconnect with a few good friends, and be inspired by the words of Mark Batterson, who wrote:

“Embrace relational uncertainty – It’s called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty – It’s called mystery. Embrace occupational uncertainty – It’s called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty – It’s called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty – It’s called revelation.”