Many of us view uncertainty as the enemy. It makes us uncomfortable and fearful — especially if our expectations have painted only one picture. That is, we dread uncertainty when we’ve convinced ourselves that only one result will do. Only one thing will make us happy or feel fulfilled. Only one thing, one path will lead to our dream life.
This one thing may be a relationship, a home, a business venture, a big move. Or, as in Allison Carmen’s case, a specific law school.
Allison Carmen was set on becoming an attorney. And she was set on doing this at New York University Law School. She had it all planned out. But she was put on the waitlist. She felt like her dreams were obliterated, and her future was lost. For weeks she did nothing and felt terrible.
She let the acceptance dates on the schools she was admitted to expire. After realizing that going to law school was still her dream, she went to Fordham Law School and begged to be accepted. She was.
Four things happened when she attended Fordham: She met and fell in love with the man who’d become her husband; she met two of her closest friends; she got a job from a firm that hired students from her law school, and they even paid her to attend NYU Law School to earn her Masters of Law; and several years later she started her own practice with the help of her classmates.
In her book The Gift of Maybe: Finding Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times Carmen, now a life coach and business consultant, stresses the importance of adopting the mindset of Maybe. According to Carmen, “Maybe is the part of uncertainty where endless possibilities live and breathe.”
Instead, many of us get stuck in linear thinking. This “leads us to believe that there is a right and a wrong way for our lives to unfold,” writes Carmen.
“We tell ourselves story after story, believing we know how life should proceed for our well-being and success. But how can there by just one way for us to manifest our goals?”
The problem with linear thinking is that if that one result we’ve been expecting or hoping for doesn’t happen (which is very possible, as uncertainty is the one thing that is certain in our lives), then we become stuck. We ruminate. We amass regrets. We become blind to the possibilities all around us.
In The Gift of Maybe Carmen includes several exercises we can try to help us apply the approach of Maybe to our lives.
Think about a time you were feeling stressed out about the outcome of a situation, but it actually turned out well. For instance, as Carmen writes, maybe you were devastated when someone you pursued picked someone else, but months later you met the partner of your dreams. Or you lost your job but now you’re doing something that makes you really happy.
Next, think about a current situation that’s causing you stress. Write down how you feel about it. Do you know how things will turn out? If you aren’t positive, can you acknowledge other possibilities? How does doing so make you feel?
Then challenge your statement by using “maybe.” Carmen suggests writing these statements (or pick the ones that resonate with you):
- Maybe my beliefs about the situation are not true;
- Maybe what is happening is good;
- Maybe what’s happening can get better;
- Maybe I can find a way to accept whatever I’m experiencing and still be all right;
- Maybe, in time, I will know what to do next;
- Maybe everything is fine.
Carmen includes three versions of the following visualization. This is the first one she suggests for resolving a problem. You can visualize this in your mind or sketch the images you see.
Close your eyes, and visualize your problem as a door. Focus on this large door. You may feel stressed out and overwhelmed, which is natural. Now imagine that you’re pulling away from the door. As you do, the door gets smaller and smaller. You also notice that there’s a lot of white space around the door. Move around this space, which you’re able to do freely.
“Name the white space Maybe, with all its possibilities.” Again, notice how small the door is compared to all that white space, and focus on the word Maybe. This reminds us that there are plenty of alternatives, possibilities and ideas for approaching our problem.
Do this visualization for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. If there’s more than one problem in your situation, create more doors. Spend time with each door to better understand how the issue is making you feel. After spending time with each door, pull back, and notice all the white space of Maybe.
According to Carmen, Maybe “frees us from defining each and every moment as either good or bad.” It moves us away from black-and-white thinking. It widens our world.
When we adopt the philosophy of Maybe, we’re able to see the different paths and possibilities available to us for accomplishing our goals and creating a fulfilling life.