Photo Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldaña,
Photo Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldaña,

Approval Above Water

Any port in a storm. Just as sailors will seek any form of shelter in a storm, people seek structure and dependability in times of uncertainty. One of the scariest things to say is “I don’t know.” It betrays the fact that you don’t have a plan while it seems everyone else does.

Under the shadow of Instagram highlight reels, everyone seems to be constantly putting their best image forward. To feel like you don’t have a game plan can make you feel less than others. You don’t want to not have a shiny answer for the “what are you doing after college?” or “what do you want to do with that?” question. Rather than say “I don’t know” we default– in both our answer and our actions– to something that’ll be approved of, even if we don’t know why we’re actually doing it.

It’s as if when uncertainty’s pulling us under, we grasp for the nearest “approved” life raft.

Uncertainty’s a Breeding Ground for “Shoulds”

“Shoulds” are the things we’ve internalized as good, bad, right, or wrong (these things vary by culture, location, and age). My college pumped out Big Four consultants like it was some kind of factory. You were entitled to say you wanted to do anything after graduation, but the A+ answer was that you should try to do consulting.

Freshman year of college I was fresh off of my childhood “should.” I was told being a doctor was the right answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” So I told everyone I wanted to be a doctor. However, midway through my first year at school I realized I’d no interest in an additional eight years of education.

So I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor. However, the realization that I’d no idea what I actually wanted to do hit me like a ton of bricks. Without an answer to those future-thinking questions, I felt a wave of uncertainty like I’d never felt before. I felt lost– like I was floundering around with no clear purpose.

For fear of drifting I affixed myself to the most stable thing available to me: consulting. For almost my entire college career I told people I wanted to be a consultant. Not because I actually wanted to be one, but because I didn’t want to say “I don’t know.” So I desperately held onto the life raft of “should,” and shut my eyes, waiting for the uncertainty to end. I spent years clinging to something I had no interest in to mask my fear of uncertainty.

With my head buried in certainty, I closed my eyes to authenticity

Not only did I walk around feeling like an imposter, I robbed myself of opportunities to find my authentic self. It was impossible to both cling to the life raft for dear life and look around to see where I actually wanted to go.

Uncertainty’s inevitable. You can either cling to what’s approved of and trade the opportunity to find your passion, or you can change your perspective to see the drifting as bringing you towards your authentic self.

You can weather the storm. Don’t let the murky waters of “should” blow you to a port you don’t want to go.