Embrace Uncertainty

Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.

Last year I purchased a new camera; not a small decision because photography is an important creative outlet for me. The camera has been a mixed bag – it’s functionality works well for me and it handles well. There are issues, though. I had to send it to the manufacturer for about five weeks to repair an electronics malfunction. Now, a few months later, another electronics issue seems to be developing. So the investment was a risk that has not turned out as I had hoped. (The camera is a Fujifilm X series model, for those who are curious.)

Of course, in an abstract way, we never know what will happen in life. Most of the time, however, we have a good idea of the outcome. If we go to the grocery, we’ll probably make it home with our purchases. When we go to our jobs, days of high drama are statistically rare. We can’t guarantee the future, but we can predict it with confidence a lot of the time.

Assortment of cheeses on shelf in a market
In most of our daily activities – like shopping – we can be relatively certain of the outcome

Creative expression is another matter. Uncertainty is hard-wired into the experience. The filming of Apocalypse Now was threatened by a series of obstacles. Van Gogh was not a commercially successful artist during his lifetime. Steve Jobs was forced to leave his own company (or was he?). And the tools we need to perform our work may not always deliver. Like the Family Circus kids running from Point A to Point B, beginning a creative act will very likely take us in unexpected directions.

There’s a lot of subjectivity in creativity, also. A visionary director may not have such vision after allThe final result we imagine may not be fulfilled in reality. The public may not embrace our new product, no matter what the market research indicated.

We can make trips to the grocery store or post office without much thought because we are confident in how it will turn out. There’s nothing especially creative about that (in fact, you may need to resist a creative onslaught!). Writing a novel or starting a small business is a different matter. There’s a lot of uncertainty involved, that’s one of the reasons so few people do these things. We can’t make a habit of creative works if we don’t embrace uncertainty. That might be why this Forbes article puts giving up a fear of uncertainty at the top of a list of strategies to be a high achiever.

Van Gogh easel in Arles, France with graffiti in background
One of the Van Gogh easels in Arles, France – passion for his art did not translate to career certainty for the artist

Our natural impulse to avoid uncertainty can be a good thing, that fear can alert us to potential problems. But the only way to get through a creative life with your sanity intact is to get comfortable with the fact that both the process and the outcome are unpredictable. Improvisation and persistence are tools of the trade. That can also be a good thing. It can inspire us to move forward in unexpected directions. In the documentary David Lynch: The Art Life, the director and artist said, “Because I was always drawing, my mother did…this is the greatest thing she did…she refused to ever have me have coloring books. She did not do that for my brother or my sister. Somehow, for really a beautiful thing came to her, that those would be restrictive, and kill some kind of creativity.” Sometimes being forced to think outside the box is the best thing that can happen to us.

The camera investment is a learning experience. I may end up having to repeat the process with another brand. It’s a frustrating experience but another step in constantly improving my skills and trying to become a more effective artist. Uncertain outcomes can be valuable opportunities for growth. And that’s a guarantee.

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