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My dad is fond of teasing my mom about how, back when they were in college, she would buy all of her school books, take them home, and immediately flip to the back of each book.
As she glanced through the final chapters of each textbook, she would get more and more anxious. Eventually, fighting back tears, she’d throw her hands up and say, “I don’t understand any of this! I’m never going to make it through these classes.”
My dad would always chuckle and reassure her by saying, “Of course you don’t understand the stuff in the back of the book. That’s why you’re taking this class! So that by the time you get there, you DO know how to do all of it.”
We all laugh about this story now. It’s one of those Thanksgiving-table stories that gets told over and over again.
But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that this story isn’t just a funny family anecdote. It’s actually a great analogy for what most of us do all the time.
We’re all peeking into the “back of the book,” trying to figure out what’s coming and how we’re going to handle it, and getting overwhelmed by everything we don’t know yet.
I’M GUILTY OF THIS
Last week I read a story about school bullying, and later that day I caught myself worrying about how I’m going to handle it if my kids experience bullying.
Mind you, I don’t have kids. In fact, I’m SO far away from being ready to have kids — much less school-aged kids who are old enough to potentially be bullied — that it’s ridiculous for me to be worrying about this now.
And yet, there I was, worrying about kids that don’t even exist yet.
I had to stop and remind myself, “Stop looking in the back of the book, Kristen! You don’t need to know how to handle this right now.”
By the time I do have kids old enough to possibly experience bullying, I’ll be FAR more equipped to handle that situation. I’ll be older and wiser, plus I’ll have years of parenting experience under my belt.
Future Kristen is WAY more qualified to figure this out than Present-Day Kristen is. I really should leave this one to her.
AN IMPOSSIBLE JIGSAW PUZZLE
A client of mine wants to start her own business.
She’s come to me with a few different ideas by now, and every time she gets excited about a new business concept, she immediately skips 20 steps ahead to why it won’t work because she has no idea how to do X, Y, or Z (things she wouldn’t have to do for months or even years down the road).
“I can’t start a bakery because I have no idea how to hire employees and figure out compensation and benefits and all of that. It’s too hard; I should just scrap the idea.”
Or, “I can’t open a coding school for girls because how would I structure it? And where would I host it? And who would I get to teach them? And how much would I charge? I can’t do this.”
I told her that, by trying to figure everything out immediately after having the idea, it was like trying to complete a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Not only is it not possible — it’s maddening!
She was driving herself crazy trying to answer questions that she couldn’t possibly answer right then. And she kept shutting down great ideas because she didn’t yet have a crystal clear picture of how it would all work out.
I GET WHY SHE DID THIS
On one level, it doesn’t make much sense to skip to the back of the book and fret about things we can’t possibly understand yet. We all logically know that that kind of worrying is useless.
But on a deeper, emotional level, it makes perfect sense why we all do it.
Because the unknown is really scary. And in the face of it, we all want to feel some semblance of solid ground.
My mom was a brand new college student on an unfamiliar campus trying to navigate a new, scarily independent phase of her life. Looking in the back of her textbooks and trying to get a handle on her classes before they even started was her way of trying to regain some small sense of control.
I see parenthood as this amazing, wild, unpredictable adventure where there’s no textbook on how to handle challenging situations. So by trying to figure out what I’ll do in the most complicated moments years in advance, it’s my mind’s way of trying to make parenthood seem less overwhelming.
My client is just as scared of entrepreneurship as she is excited about it (as are most entrepreneurs I know!). So in an attempt to quell her fear of failure, she tries to create a mental 50-page business plan immediately after an idea pops into her mind.
We’re all trying to use “figuring things out” as a balm for our fear of the unknown.
But fear doesn’t go away because you figured everything out in advance. Fear dissolves when you trust yourself enough to figure it out when you get there.
FUTURE YOU HAS GOT THIS ON LOCK
You’re much better off trusting Future You to handle what’s coming. Future You is just as smart and capable as Present-Day You, but with far more information, experience, and resources.
When you start really trusting your future self, the unknown doesn’t seem nearly as scary because you know you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way.
If you’re having trouble letting go of control in the moment and trusting Future You, here are a few ways to boost your self-trust muscle:
- Collect proof. Compile a list of all the times when you weren’t sure how to do something (or even if you could do it at all), but in the end you figured it out and everything turned out fine. When you can remind yourself that you’ve faced the unknown before and come out unscathed, you build trust in your own resourcefulness.
- Start small. Ask yourself, “What’s something I can do now to help prepare Future Me to be able to handle this situation if/when it happens?” This shifts your energy from trying to plan out every detail of your future to what small step you can take right now to move in the right direction, which is way more manageable.
- Recognize your progress. Think back on yourself 2, 5, or 10 years ago. How much wiser are you than that previous version of yourself? How much have you grown? Now project that forward and consider how much more you’ll have learned and experienced in the next 2, 5, or 10 years. Future You is pretty damn wise! Don’t you want that version of yourself figuring things out on your behalf?
So tell me, what in your life have you been worrying about that you want to let Future You figure out instead? Share with me in the comments!
Kristen (& Rachel)