[blockquote align=”none” cite=”Sara Arnoudse”]…there are so many things I want to do!… and I’m running out of time.[/blockquote]

Originally published February 20, 2007
My 20 year-old daughter, Sara, was in full voice. “Dad, there are so many things I want to do. I’m going to Spain in the fall, but I wish I were staying on campus at the University so I can meet the presidential candidates before the primary. I don’t know at all where I’m going to live next spring. This summer, I’m interested in an internship in Washington, DC, but people tell me it’s a great time to be on campus. There’s another overnight leadership workshop next weekend, but I’m just not sure if I want to go again. I might want to take an extra semester before I graduate because there are so many courses I want to take and I’m running out of time. I feel like I should get a job and make some money, but I’m not sure how I could fit it all in. Everything is just so up in the air!”

What struck me about our landmark conversation was the energy. Sara was hungry for experiences, but knew not all of them were possible. Bemoaning her uncertainty in the face of so many choices, she was feeling the fear of, perhaps, making some wrong ones. She was exhilarated at the prospect of working with a non-governmental agency that’s focused on serving Central America.

Above all, what struck me most, in the middle of all her complaints, was how fully alive she was!

How many messages do we receive daily telling us that security, peace of mind, and comfort should be our primary concerns? How many messages tell us that we should remove uncertainty from our lives–especially as we get older? That we should live somewhere with well-established routines, preferably in an enclave of people our own age who will have similar concerns, predictable conversations, and plenty of insurance to cover every conceivable risk. The ideal reward for our years of dealing with the vicissitudes of life? A smooth, comfortable ride to the end with no unpleasant surprises.

But what if the key to staying vital and fully alive is just the opposite?

What if the key to growing older is to actually choose uncertainty? To consciously build surprises into one’s life. To vary routines so we’re constantly being tested in new situations. So that we have to make choices with imperfect data, we have to take risks based on intuition, we have to make requests of others because the situation requires expertise, experience, and courage that are beyond our reach.

I choose to fully engage in the great mystery of life. I choose to wake up each morning not knowing just what that day will bring–and to welcome it all the same. I choose to experience both sun and shadow. I choose to feel all my emotions until I die: exhilaration and fear, calm and anxiety, shock and awe, love and repulsion, boldness and passivity, peace and confrontation.

Above all, I choose to live in gratitude for the beauty of uncertainty.