A Likely Story



Whatever explanation we come up with for how life has gone, it's probably just a likely story.

Hindsight is an interesting phenomenon. The day before Canada’s federal election on October 19th, no one knew who would win the tight, 3-way race or by how much. But on the day after a landslide victory, everyone had an explanation. We humans have a reflexive needs to explain and assign and organize life. We automatically rummage through the same information we had before an unpredicted event, and pick and choose the bits that fit the now obvious outcome into a pattern. But if we’re honest, we can see that whatever explanation we come up with after the fact is, at best, a likely story — and certainly no predictor of the future.

Perfectionists are especially drawn to neat, linear narratives. I can’t tell you how many 5-year plans I’ve laid out for my life. I even made a top-10 list of qualities I wanted in a mate, as if I could just do some comparative shopping and pick out the model with the features I wanted. Suffice it to say, no plan has ever turned out exactly as I laid it out, and the love of my life turned out to be missing a couple of items on the list — but came with unexpected benefits that I could never have anticipated (and never would have experienced had I stuck rigidly to the list).

In his mind-bending book, The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb confronted me with the very real phenomenon of randomness and its powerful impact on life. As a planner-ly and organized person, I was surprised by the notion that unpredictability could be contemplated in a scholarly fashion — never mind proven, and even counted on. (And yes, I’ve heard of Chaos Theory, but that didn’t factor into my perfect plans.) This week, with the wealth of hindsight in our midst, I got thinking about my own likely story. My explanation for how I got to this stage in my life and where I’m headed.

Despite my splendid planning, I could not have accounted for the collapse of my industry (acting) or the failure of my health (I had both good eating and exercising habits). But nor could I have predicted the stunning strength of my marriage in dealing with these challenges, or my joy at living in the country (having previously taken pride in being able to cycle anywhere I needed to go within the urban boundaries of the City of Toronto proper). I didn’t know the satisfaction of writing a blog, the peacefulness of spending so much time alone, or the fact that I would become one of those women walking around in yoga pants covered in dog hair. (Never say never.)

I will always be a planner. I have dreams and aspirations and goals. But control is something I don’t have. At least, not over everything. And if I know that life is unpredictable and the future unmappable, not including that is a recipe for crazy-making. Because every time I make a specific plan of action, the best I can hope for is to be relieved that it didn’t fall apart. But creating guideposts and embracing the unknown allow for surprise and delight and sometimes celebration. It’s where imagination and invention lives. Looking backwards is useful for learning lessons, but it doesn’t give one divine insight into the future. Today, I’m looking forward to looking forward.

From A Run In My Stocking: Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist 


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