The unknown

You can spend your life avoiding the unknown. You will fail. Or you can embrace it fully — but not recklessly.

In 1995, I faced the unknown.

I was hired as a technology analyst. I had no idea if I could actually do the job. I thought, “I have enough trouble analyzing the prospects of a department in a small company. How can I analyze whole industries?”

My wife and I were expecting our first child. I had no idea what kind of father I would be.

I decided to challenge myself. I signed up to go on a three-day charity bike ride for AIDS. It was 260 miles long, Boston to New York City. I had no idea if I could do that: I was hardly an athlete. But I thought, if I can complete this ride, I can look my wife in the eye as she is in labor and say “You can do this.”

The unknown will get you, so prepare

The unknown is scary. Lots of people try not to face it. You can’t protect yourself forever.

Sooner or later a parent will die, or a love affair will fall apart, or you’ll get laid off, or you’ll need an operation. Life will happen to you. You’ll be faced with the unknown, regardless of how skillfully you tried to escape it.

If you have no experience navigating the unknown, your psyche will recoil.

Since the unknown is scary, get some experience doing things you’re not sure you can do. Seek out things to challenge you . . . and things you may fail at. You’ll learn that you can handle it. And when life throws the unknown at you, you’ll have some idea how that will feel, and how to grapple with it.

There are three things you can do to get ready for the unknown.

Education. Learn about what you’re facing.

Preparation. Acquire skills and practice for what you’ll be facing.

Cooperation. Find people who can help you.

Your coming adventure may be unknown, but you don’t have to fling yourself into it recklessly.

What happened

I was terrible at being an analyst, at first. I felt like a failure. But my colleagues thought differently. They gave me the Creativity Award in my first year. I eventually got pretty good at it, and taught the job to many others over two decades.

I trained hard for the AIDS ride. I’ve never been so sore in my life. But I made it — and spent every mile on the seat of my bike, unlike many hundreds of others who ended the first day walking.

We had two kids. We made mistakes, but that’s what happens when you’ve never done something before. But overall, we did okay. They turned into wonderful people.

Education. Preparation. Cooperation. They worked.

The unknown is coming. Don’t cower. Get used to it. Because living your life in fear is a huge waste.

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  1. Josh,
    I have read your posts for years now, and I always appreciate your take on life, and sometimes it is exactly what I needed to hear to help me navigate mine.
    Hope you are doing well.

  2. Worthwhile topic, Josh. Entering life’s latter third is replete with all things unknown and akin to walking through a mine field without a map.

    To your suggestions I would add meditation (or prayer) on the qualities of patience, courage and wisdom.

  3. Nice read, Josh. Appropriately, this sort of personal reflection is a bit out of character for this blog. Also appropriately, it works. Bravo!