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Narrated by Marie T. Russell.
“Uncertainty is the refuge of hope.”
—Henri Frederic Amiel
When I think back to the beginning of my separation from my husband, I can’t decide which was harder: his actually leaving me or being in counseling together for seven weeks. Sitting in counseling with someone whom I’d had to beg to stay was overwhelmingly painful. There was something so awful about someone who had been my best friend the month before who was now so cold and distant, who was only sitting through therapy, it seemed, as a concession to me.
In therapy, we “explored” why he wanted to leave. But the reason was simple. He wanted to date other people. I watched him struggle to come up with a better explanation, but this, in the end, was what it came down to. What were the chances counseling could shift that? In counseling, one of the hardest parts was living with the uncertainty of whether the marriage could be saved.
One night, as I lay in bed crying while my husband slept next to me, I noticed my book The Gift of Maybe on my nightstand. I picked it up and went into the bathroom, where I sat on the cold tile floor. I opened up the book and started to read. I had begun writing the book in 2011, and it was now seven years later.
As I read through the first chapter, which explored the kinds of fears I'd been living with for years, to my surprise, I found that I had listed "Would my husband always love me?" as one of my fears. The words hit me hard. It was as if I had been writing to my future self, reminding her to embrace this mindset of maybe when the time came, and I'd really need it.
The Need for Certainty
The premise of The Gift of Maybe is that being addicted to certainty creates fear and limits what is possible in our lives. It was born from my experience that if I didn't know what would happen next in my life, I projected things would be bad and not work out. I was unable to sit in the uncertainty of life and be open to all the possible outcomes, especially the good ones.
As I held the published book in my hands now, I remembered when I was writing it that I came across a quote by the great philosopher Jiddhu Krishnamurti who, when sharing his secret to happiness, said,
"Do you want to know what my secret is?
I don't mind what happens."
It is simple to understand why this state of mind leads to freedom and happiness: if we don't mind what happens next in our lives, we have no reason to be stressed and worried today. Although not minding is a ticket to emotional freedom, most of us cannot help but care about what will happen next in our lives. We care about keeping our jobs, having enough money, our children being healthy, being in good relationships, our spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend not breaking up with us, and a slew of other crucial outcomes.
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We want to make sure that the things we want to happen actually do happen -- and that is precisely where our need for certainty begins. Yet we can't control everything, and life is filled with twists and turns; sometimes our efforts to secure certainty leave us far from the life that we desire. Do we mind? Absolutely.
Addicted to Certainty
I was addicted to certainty for most of my adult life until one day, I heard this story about a farmer and his horse. The story goes like this.
One day, a farmer's horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, "You have the worst luck."
The farmer replied to the neighbor, "Maybe."
The next day, the horse returned with five mares, and his neighbor came by and said, "You have the best luck."
The farmer replied, "Maybe."
The day after that, the farmer's son was riding the horse and fell off and broke his leg, and the neighbor came by and said to the farmer, "You have the worst luck."
The farmer replied, "Maybe." The next day, the army came looking to draft the boy for combat, but he could not go because his leg was broken.
The neighbor came by and said, "You have the best luck."
Again, the farmer said, "Maybe."
Even in the midst of the most painful moment of my life, this story again provided an opening. This time, it didn't alleviate the pain immediately as it had the first time I encountered it. The pain in my heart was just too deep right now. But the story did give me a glimmer of hope.
As I read my book, I came upon the exercise in the first chapter. I got a pen from my bedroom and returned to the bathroom floor. Hunched over, on a blank page in my book, I wrote the question down that I had asked so many of my clients before, "What is your biggest fear?"
I was quite certain of my answer. I was afraid my husband was really leaving me, not just saying he wanted to, and that the pain would kill me. I was afraid that I would never survive and never have a joyful life again. I was afraid for my daughters. I was afraid that they would crumble and become weak, insecure women. I feared that they would never be happy again.
And then I asked myself, "Am I absolutely sure these fears are true?"
This was a question I had answered so many times before, but here I was afraid to say what came next. Still, I knew in my soul what the answer was: I didn't know that my fears about the future were true. My life had maybe.
I curled into a fetal position and kept writing. As I lay on the bathroom floor, I couldn't even lift my head to watch the pen in my hand writing on the page. I just wrote maybe statement after maybe statement. I could barely catch my breath. The statements were illegible, each written over the next. I cried and screamed as I wrote them. My husband never came to knock on the door.
The Certainty of Maybe...
I wrote for thirty minutes. Maybe my husband and I would work it out. Maybe we would have a happy marriage. Maybe we would heal the wounds this had caused. I also recognized that maybe I could accept whatever was going to happen and still be okay. Maybe there would be a life for me beyond all of this, even though I could not think of one.
Then, I kept writing again and again: Maybe everything is okay; Maybe everything is okay; Maybe everything is okay. My mind recognized that there was maybe. But I felt no light in my heart that night. I did fall asleep for a few hours on the bathroom floor. It was the first time I had slept in days.
I continued this ritual every night. We were in counseling, so I thought we were trying to save our marriage. I leaned toward maybe scenarios that had us staying together, but I also spent as much time on maybe statements that did not include us being together. All day long, I repeated to myself in my head: Maybe everything will be okay.
During this time while I wasn't sleeping and everything was up and down, Dr. Catherine Birndorf asked me to join The Motherhood Center. In deciding to split with her business partner, who was a male, she asked me to give the company more time. I was in pretty bad shape, but I had done so many maybe statements every night that these words fell out of my mouth in response to her invitation: "Maybe I can give you more time"; "Maybe this would be good for me"; "Maybe it's a good idea I earn more money right now, especially since my biggest client for the past twenty-five years is in the process of selling his business and my marriage is headed I don't know where."
The truth was, I didn't have a real interest in working at the Center, but my maybe work made The Motherhood Center seem like a place of possibility. Could life be pulling me forward, despite my desire to hang on to how things had always been?
I performed my work well but I was crying to Dr. Birndorf in between the meetings. At one point, she took The Gift of Maybe from her shelf and started to use it as her mouse pad. From then on, I couldn't sit in the room without seeing my book. One day she and I were talking in between meetings. She was at her computer. My eyes fell on the book, and she followed my gaze. "Let me ask you something, Allison," she said. "Do you think everyone has maybe?"
Without hesitation, I responded, "I know they do."
"Then so do you," she said to me with a smile and in a tone of expertise and authority.
There was something about that moment. It was as if my maybe prayers had been reflected back at me. Yes, if every client of mine and everyone who read my book and beyond had maybe, then so did I.
The thought didn't move my pain, but when I heard it from this strong, capable woman, finally the light of hope entered my heart. It was slight but palpable. I had one of the lead psychiatrists in the world reflecting maybe back to me. Not so bad!
The Gift of Uncertainty
When Dr. Birndorf was treating a patient that day, I found an empty office, and I closed my eyes for a few minutes. I was immediately reminded of a friend from years ago. I had given him my book to read a few weeks after his wife died, and he came up to me a few weeks after that and told me he hated it. He said his wife had died and that his life had no maybe. I was so upset. I thought I had crossed the boundaries of maybe and, most of all, our friendship.
It bothered me for a long time. But after some time had passed, this friend approached me again. "I have to say," he told me, " I loved your book. Six months after my wife died, I said to myself, 'Maybe there is still something left for me to experience in this lifetime.' Now, I have a girlfriend. It doesn't mean I am happier, or I love her more than I did my wife, but I am making the most of every day and seeing where maybe takes me."
Like my friend, in that moment at The Motherhood Center at the end of July 2018, eyes closed and still reeling from pain, I thought to myself, Maybe there is something left for me to experience in this lifetime.
I finally felt some hope that maybe everything would be okay no matter what happened. I was weak and heartbroken, but I knew that uncertainty was my best friend. I stayed close to my breath so that I could stay grounded in each moment and muttered "maybe" each and every day.
Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission.
Published by Skyhorse Publishing.
A Year without Men: A Twelve-Point Guide to Inspire & Empower Women
by Allison Carmen
Using the events of a very painful year in her own personal and professional life—her husband left her, her consulting business took an unexpected hit, and she faced a serious health scare—business consultant and life strategist Allison Carmen explores the forces in women’s personal and professional lives that hold us back.
In A Year without Men, she offers twelve simple, practical tools to help us look within, find our own values, morals, and passions, work on our skills, call on other women, and forge new ways to do business. Together, we can create a new way to earn money, a new way to look at beauty, and so many other new ways to be in the world.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Allison Carmen holds a B.A. in accounting, a J.D. of Law, and a Master's of Law in taxation. After working for a large law firm in Manhattan, she founded her own law firm and built a successful practice focusing on real estate, corporate, mergers and acquisitions, and taxation. After 15 years of practicing law, Allison transitioned her practice into business consulting, business coaching, and life coaching. Allison is also the part-time CFO of The Motherhood Center, a mission-driven female-run day hospital for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Allison is the author of The Gift of Maybe: Offering Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times, and A Year Without Men, A Twelve Point Guide to Inspire and Empower Women. Allison's podcast, 10 Minutes To Less Suffering, focuses on helping people alleviate daily stress and worry. She also writes for several large online publications, including Psychology Today, and is sought after guest on radio and other online media platforms. She is also a certified health coach and Reiki master.
Visit her website at http://www.allisoncarmen.com