Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Quest for Certainty

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” Erich Fromm

I’m at a space of in-between--the unsettling space between what I know and what I can't yet articulate.

I remember once when I was in my early 20’s; I was in a space I’ve come to call “the space of not-knowing.” At the time I couldn’t articulate it as anything other than an anxiety producing state of mind. My sister Emily and I were talking about the unsettled-ness of that space and the anxiety it provoked and she likened it to being between two trapezes. One hand releases one of the ropes and the other is reaching for the one that is sure to come, but depending on where we are in the release and then catch…there is some time in that process where we are suspended mid-air…hurling through space…unsure, uncertain and praying for the other rope to hurry up and appear.

When I was younger, particularly in my 20’s this place created such discomfort, that I usually did one of two things:

1.) I numbed out by trying very hard to be anywhere but where I was. I might drink, run, work, sleep, eat or party. I would DO something to disengage from the uncertainty, not in a healthful or stress management kind of way…but in a denial or not-present kind of way.

2.) When number 1 didn’t work I would often turn to number 2 which was to make up stories to explain the anxiety. Instead of just being present with it and owning the fact that “I don’t know where I’m going, what’s happening or why I’m feeling this way” I would make up stuff…the stuff was usually focused on something outside myself, such as a person or situation.

Here is a perfect example. Several years ago I was feeling a lot of uncertainty around what my role at Girls on the Run should be. In the early days of our development I wore a lot of different hats. I was fundraiser, spokesperson, curriculum developer, coach, trainer and manager. As the program grew, it became critical to the sustainability of the organization to delegate, empower others and enrich the program with additional people who could utilize their gifts and talents to fill in the gaps which were clearly absent from MY skill set.

But, as necessary as it was to delegate these tasks, when they were removed from my to-do list, I was left with a void. This state of “empty, unknowing and uncertainty” skyrocketed my anxiety levels to an all-time high! I was restless, irritable and discontent. To alleviate some of that anxiety and the unsettled-ness of the empty space within, I immediately began to fill it in with all kinds of activity. I started training for a marathon. I started creating new initiatives and thinking up ways to engage myself with other organizations. My wheels were spinning out of control and my thoughts were as well.

I also started making up stories. There were lots of stories that involved other people, both in and out of the organization, but the underlying theme of these stories was rooted in the Girl Box messages I had received over the course of my lifetime and had come to claim as my own: “Molly, you are inadequate, incapable and not good enough” which when translated into work words showed up as “Molly, you are inadequate, incapable and not intelligent enough to serve in a leadership capacity with this organization.”

On November 6th, 2007, I was hit by a car. For six weeks I couldn’t walk and for six months I couldn’t run. As I look back over the course of those six weeks to six months I feel my body take a huge sigh of relief. As scary and as painful as that time was, I was forced to hurl through space…releasing the handle on one rope and pray, meditate and believe that the other handle would miraculously appear.

I journaled, meditated, and spoke with friends. I tended to the simple things in life like paying bills, helping my kids with their homework, curling up with my dogs and writing thank you cards. I floated in the in-between and made a very intentional and conscious decision to have faith…that somehow, somewhere if I just waited long enough and with patience, the clarity and the knowing would arrive and so would the rope. The stories to emerge would be ones filled with strength, character and power.

Two years later I can say with a certainty I couldn’t have dreamed of then that the rope did appear and it said, “Celebrate YOUR gifts and talents and allow others to do the same.” This shift in perception has catapulted Girls on the Run to a new level of not only growth and sustainability but a new level of deeper awareness…a deeper awareness that is showing up in all kinds of ways such as how we structure ourselves from a business perspective; and the creation of brand new, deeper and more relevant Girls on the Run and Girls on Track curricula.

So now…while I sit here…in a space of unknowing and as I write to you, I feel a huge sigh of relief and an almost visceral giggle begin to erupt from my being. What lies ahead for me? What rope will I catch? What will it tell me? How will it show up and from whom?

What have been your unhealthy mechanisms for dealing with the anxiety of “not-knowing” and how have those mechanisms changed over the years? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.


  1. Being a new empty nester, this is exactly how I am feeling. The space of in between. Thanks for articulating what I have been feeling for several months now... unknowing, unsure, praying for the rope. I'm working on dealing with the anxiety and finding the rope.

  2. My guess is the rope will find you! I love how all of this just "shows up" when we have our eyes wide open. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Molly, I am so happy to have found your blog. You are such an inspiration to me. I have enjoy reading your past posts and look forward to finishing them all. I especially enjoyed a mother's touch- it has made me appreciate my mom and our runs together when she comes to visit me.

    I coach a Girls on the Run program in Indianapolis and is my true passion. It is what I look most forward to when I get up and go to work each day. Having that feeling has made me want a job where I feel that each and everyday. Therefor, I am going through the process of the independent council as we speak. I hope to become a part of your wonderful circle.

    For the girls,

  4. Oh Hollie! Thank you so much for posting. If I can be of any help in the application process please let me know!

  5. Molly, I just found your blog and have been reading it all in one gulp. Awesome! I'm so proud of you for creating Girls on the Run. It's a fabulous program and, now that I know more about you, it's easy to see why it's so great.

  6. How do I deal with the not knowing? Sometimes I just ignore it. Often I indulge in blind faith, which is a bit like ignoring it. Then other times I practice controlled, informed faith, which has a lot to do with thinking through things.
    Not knowing takes my thoughts back as much as it takes them to the future. Sometimes the thoughts of the past concern going back to past jobs. Although this can be positive, it probably detracts from attention to the tasks at hand. Sometimes I beat myself up about bridges gone to rot. Or maybe it’s not as counterproductive as it seems; maybe I should let myself go back and process it all. Now there’s a job. I’d have to get paid a lot for that one! Or retire.
    Daydreaming is another mechanism for dealing with anxiety. It spills into the realm of being idealistic, which isn’t necessarily negative unless it detracts too much from reality and produces--yes--more anxiety. Don Quixote to the rescue?