A few months ago I was accepted to graduate school for a Masters in Music. For those of you who don’t know, in addition to acting and writing, I sing classically. In any case, I worked extremely hard for that acceptance and yet when it rolled around, I felt nothing. No excitement, no despair, no pride; just indifference.
I sat for weeks with that feeling. I started questioning my motives, my dreams, my whole life really. I started contemplating other viable career paths. I stopped investing so much time in my musical endeavors. I came to a point where I thought I might give up the serious pursuit of classical singing. I began toying with the notion of rejecting my acceptance to grad school and moving out of New York.
So I began to put more time into other interests like this blog, poetry, short fiction, drawing, web design; things that I would not have made much time for prior to this falling out with music. I felt free. I began to think about my pursuit of music as something of a prison that was holding me back from the things I really wanted to do.
Yet, almost simultaneously another thought crept into my mind. A voice that said, “you’re terrified.” I rejected this idea immediately. I rationalized that thought as a facet of myself that was resisting the change that was taking place; the part of me that was scared to let go of this music thing that had started to become such a big part of my life. But still that voice persisted. It began to contaminate the freedom I felt in my newfound endeavors.
I spent weeks agonizing over this imposed decision I felt I had to make. Over and over I pictured my life as it would go if I decided to go back to school. Then I’d do the same for the opposite scenario. I felt extremely confused and lost in many ways. I began to lose faith and confidence in myself. I was stuck in the middle of this thing as if I was balanced on some tight rope afraid to fall.
Finally, I sat down with my wife, and we had a lengthy conversation. We had many similar conversations before this, but none so impactful. She just listened while I went back and forth between the pros and cons of each decision. In my mind, I could see myself taking a few different paths with a satisfying outcome if I succeeded. The question was, what if I fail? How do I choose? Eventually I fell silent, dazed by the state I had worked myself into.
My wife asked me, “Do you want to go to school?” I said. “I don’t know.” She asked if that was a veiled ‘no’ or a tentative ‘yes.’ I thought for a moment and realized that I really didn’t know, or rather that I couldn’t make an informed, rational decision one way or the other. She said, “Well, that’s where you are.” Something clicked then. I understood what had been nagging me for a while. I was terrified; not just of going back to school, but everything- this unknown future.
It dawned on me that I wasn’t going to know; that I couldn’t know. I had an opportunity in front of me; an opportunity which I have trained for years to attain. And when I finally got it, it frightened me. It meant I had to commit to focusing the bulk of my time, energy, and being on this very specific thing without knowing the outcome. Yet I was equally as scared of the opposite route. If I didn’t go to school, what then?
I had an “oh, so this is life” moment. The fear and anxiety dissipated. Another question entered my head: So, what do I know? I know I want healthy and meaningful relationships in my life. I know I want a career that involves artistic/spiritual expression and cultivation. Other than that I’m not too sure. And that’s ok. So I’ve decided I’ll attend grad school. I accept that I don’t know what will happen and that I won’t know until I give it a chance. If I get there, and decide I really can’t see myself doing it, then I’ll reassess.
Embracing “I Don’t Know”
We live our lives with an incessant need to know how it will play out. It seems the most natural of thoughts for a human being. We want to know who we are and where we’re going. But life is not static. It flows, and we can’t ever know exactly where the river is taking us or what debris we’ll encounter.
The hope is that we find something that really speaks to us; something that we can see ourselves doing long term. It seems to me that even if we find that thing, nothing is certain, and it does no good to agonize over the details of some made up future.
Embracing “I don’t know” can be incredibly liberating. It thrusts one into the present moment and forces us to examine who and how we are in that moment. If we approach life from this angle, then we can have our dreams, and plans and whatever else without getting too painfully attached to them. Then we’re loose, open to possibility, open to life, and open to the change the universe inevitably throws our way.
It’s not easy. There are a million patterns of thought and feeling telling us that it’s wrong; that we must know. But that voice is full of insecurity and fear. Admitting that we don’t know gives us strength, and allows us to float steadily down the river.
Agree? Disagree? Tell me about it!
By Terence Stone
P.S. For those of you who are curious, you can see a brief performance by me, here.
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.