My nickname in high school was not flattering, but it was undeniably accurate and has contributed to my self-image ever since. My classmates called me “The Precrastinator” because I was always trying to be ahead of the ball (it wasn’t enough just to be on it). For example, if, on the first day of school, a teacher mentioned that we’d present a final project at the end of the semester, I would stay after class to find out the parameters of the assignment and follow up a few days later to run some topic ideas by the teacher. Others saw this as being a kiss-up or teacher’s pet, but that wasn’t it at all. I did not want to be caught unprepared.
Some work well under pressure; I have colleagues who need a looming deadline in order to focus. I am the exact opposite. I like to have a detailed plan so that I can calmly approach and complete each step in the process. If I suddenly find myself with an imminent deadline (which unfortunately happens as an attorney), I am paralyzed by the pressure of getting it right the first time, without the chance to do all the research or revision I normally would.
My dislike of the unknown goes beyond academic and professional settings. I will drive twenty minutes out of my way to shop at a grocery store where I am familiar with the products and layout, rather than pop into a similar shop that’s on my route. Giving gifts causes me anxiety because unless the receiver put in a specific request, I cannot predict whether s/he will like what I got. I plan my family’s meals at least a week in advance, partly to help with shopping but also because I like to know what my next meal will be. I over-pack for vacations because I try to anticipate every contingency and bring what we might need.
I am well aware of my resistance to being vulnerable to forces I cannot control. Moreover, I know this is not healthy as the only constant is change so my efforts to maintain constant control will inevitably fail or backfire at times. That is why my 2019 New Year’s Resolution is to make peace with uncertainty. Not to embrace it, mind you, but to accept it as a natural part of life and to find strength in my faith, my family, and myself to face it without fear. Plus, it sounded good when friends asked if I had any resolutions. But I had no idea what “peace with uncertainty” would look like, or how I would pursue it.
I need not have worried. Just two weeks into the New Year, and my “normal” life has been doused with uncertainty. The partial government shutdown has left me in semi-vacation mode as a furloughed fed. While I have been enjoying the unexpected time with my family, the fact that I cannot plan play dates, meals, and other commitments more than a day or two out is physically painful. Knowing I could be called back to work at any time, or not, means constantly weighing the opportunity costs of different resource expeditures. It does not help that I will be starting a completely new job, more on that in my next post, with others who are also trying to navigate an unprecedented situation.
In the recent past, my daily life was so predictable that it would have bored most people. Having three small kids was enough to keep me on my toes, however, so I actively avoided as much uncertainty as possible. Now, I find myself in circumstances where there are more unknowns than knowns. I cannot claim to have made peace with it, but I’m getting lots of practice in trying!