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A Terrifying and Freeing Truth: no one knows what they’re doing

August 23, 2020

This post is part of a 5-part series that I lovingly called my “Getting my Sh*t Together Series” where I dive into the 5 areas of my life that have helped me establish the foundation of my life outside of work so that I can focus on going above and beyond in my day job and passion projects. Check out the intro here, and sign up for emails to know when the next deep-dive posts are live.

As I fully emerged into the adult world, I realized just how often I had to make decisions. Some of them are small, like what to make for dinner, and some of them have massive impacts, like making a career change. I kept getting caught in decision paralysis, mostly afraid of making the wrong decision, but also feeling certain that if someone else could just tell me which way to go, my life would be much easier. I was convinced that other people knew the right decision for me.

It felt like everyone got a memo that I somehow missed. How do people know what they’re doing? How does everyone else know what choice is the right choice?

The truth is that they don’t.

Every single person is making the absolute best decision they can with the information that they have.

Realizing this was both terrifying and liberating: I had not missed that lesson, there was no lesson. No one else had true certainty on how something would work out. That was freeing, because it allowed me to stop feeling shame for not always knowing what to do next, and just let me focus on making the decision itself.

Jeff Sessions (yes, you read that right)

Let me tell you a story about Jeff Sessions, a tale of inspiration in the oddest of places. One day, I will write the story of the 3 Jeffs — the one who was my mentor in college (and still is a wonderful mentor), the one who recruited me to my first job and then hired me to my second, and this one:

In case you are unfamiliar, Jeff Sessions is an Alabama native who was a US Senator representing my home state at the time that I started paying attention to politics circa 2012. A handful of years later, he was made Attorney General of the United States. That’s just the context; if you’re familiar with my progressive stance on most social and economic policies, you can likely guess that we aren’t politically aligned, and that’s neither here nor there for this particular story. The real story comes after his tenure as AG (he is one of many appointed officials who have been dismissed during 45’s administration) when he is presumably sitting at home, drinking sweet tea and wearing crimson, and the news breaks with a major announcement:

He is campaigning to win his Senate seat back.

Heavens knows why this was impactful to me, but I remember reading the headline and thinking “holy crap, he has no idea if this is going to work or not.” At one point in his political career, Sessions was skyrocketing to the top, well-loved by the Alabama electorate. But after his falling from grace, he was taking a gamble. Would people put him back in the Senate? Would it be an ugly defeat? Perhaps he was arrogant and assumed he would easily win, but most likely, he felt that pang of unease, of uncertainty.

But what about Authority Figures?

It is terrifying because we assume that those who are in positions of authority — our leaders, our teachers, our elected officials —know what they’re doing, but they really don’t. They likely have good experience and surround themselves with advisors and can make good decisions, but no one really ever has true certainty around what outcomes will happen in what way. If they say they do, they’re fooling themselves — don’t let them fool you, too.

Tying it back to our journey

So how does this help us on the journey to getting our shit together? Let go of the idea that everyone else has it figured out. Realize that everyone who is successful probably made a lot of mistakes and is still making mistakes and course-correcting, so you’re allowed to do that too. Develop deep empathy for others; you don’t have to allow stupidity anywhere near you, but for the people who are genuinely trying to make the right decisions for the right reasons, give them your love, send them encouraging vibes, and cheer them on. Perhaps you’ll get some of that grace in return.

Explore more categories:  Personal Development

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