I recently found myself in the position of having to replace my car. Through no fault of my own, the reliable set of wheels that had served me for the past 8 years was now the talk of my quiet tree-lined street, its remnants lining the sidewalk that paralleled my front yard, its value reduced to a tidy settlement check.
When I went to bed the night before, I had no idea what would be awaiting me the next morning. What would it be like if our life’s tragedies came with a warning? Would it make them any easier to face? Could we brace for each one with greater resolve and acceptance?
Most of us can rise with confidence each morning that there will continue to be a roof over our head, food on our table, and money in our bank account. But even such seeming certainties can be altered, or gone, in an instant.
We hope that the faces we see each day will continue to be there for years to come, that we’ll never know what it’s like to forget the sound of the voices that accompany them. We pray that our bodies don’t give out on us too soon, that our minds remain sharp, that the abilities we so easily take for granted don’t escape us too quickly.
We expect change, learn to embrace it even, but then quickly grow accustomed to the way things are, clinging to the sense of predictability and comfort they bring.
It’s a reassuring world we create for ourselves, one that enables us to live with ease amidst the most pleasant to the most chaotic of circumstances. We naturally gravitate toward order and enlightenment, trying to package our lives’ events in neat little boxes that align with our worldview.
Yet our losses and setbacks frequently collide with the basic tenets from which we seek solace and confirmation: that our lives go according to our most carefully thought-out plans; that we can buffer ourselves against the unexpected; that if we keep our end of the bargain, we’ll be rewarded in equal measure.
Living with uncertainty is one of life’s greatest challenges. Without it, our days become formulaic, routine, and predictable. With it, we’re vulnerable to any number of obstacles, emergencies, and unknowns.
But the uncertain nature of our existence can also be a profound reinforcer of our inner strength, guiding us back to the selves that have been molded by the very tragedies we work so hard to avoid.
From facing a slight change in our week’s schedule to receiving news that can upend our world as we know it, we’re continually called upon to adapt to our environment’s outer demands, reinforcing the scaffolding of our inner being. The values that reemerged after my car was totaled have been shaped not only by my journey with minimalism, but by learning how to navigate life each time it hasn’t gone as expected.
1. The sense of stability afforded to us by our possessions is temporary. Having a car is a privilege that has provided me with reliable transportation. It enables me to get to and from work, run errands, and travel for fun. I derive a sense of stability from knowing that my car will be there when I need it and safely get me from point A to point B. It’s an important component of my routine and one that offers me a convenient way of getting around. But without it, I’d be left to find alternative ways of meeting my needs: public transportation, carpooling, walking, cycling, ridesharing. It’s natural to seek stability from our possessions, and we often can find it, at least for a time. But our greatest sense of stability must come from within ourselves. The material objects from which we seek it are fleeting and designed with expiration dates.
2. Upgrades are optional. As a minimalist, I’m not readily impressed by fancy specs or intuitive design. When shopping for a replacement car, my main goal was to stick to my budget, and leather interiors and lane change alerts weren’t going to persuade me otherwise. Sure, the frills were tempting, but far from necessary. Within the technology industry in particular, upgrades are unveiled at an alarming rate. Be mindful about which ones you opt for. Will it make your life richer and more meaningful, or complicated and more cumbersome? Will it facilitate long-term change or short-term solutions? Will it align with your personal needs and unique desires or wow your friends?
3. Self-care is essential. Self-care has long been a top priority of mine, and during this period, I found myself craving it with a renewed hunger. When the bottom falls out from under us, it’s important to have something to fall back on to see ourselves through it. If we wait until the unexpected happens to learn what soothes us, we risk not getting the immediate care and comfort we need. Identify ways you can be there for yourself when times get tough and practice doing them when things are running smoothly. That way, you’ll be well-versed in the art of taking care of you when it’s most essential.
4. Time is an invaluable commodity. As much as I grieved the loss of my car, I grieved the loss of my time: time spent talking with insurance agents, estimators, rental car facilitators, salesmen; time spent researching, calculating, comparing, compromising; time spent cleaning, sorting, signing, resettling. My days were newly consumed by the lengthy and complex process that buying a car entails, and I found myself running off adrenaline, exhausted by the end of week one. How we spend the unstructured hours of our days matters, and our lives can feel vastly out of whack when they’re interrupted. Be deliberate in how you use your free minutes. Carve out time to simply be, and when life gets in the way, be purposeful in maintaining it.
5. Know that it will be ok. The morning my car was hit, I initially experienced a sense of shock. I grappled with the whys, the hows, all the usual suspects. Was it what I wanted? Not a chance. Did it create a financial strain? Certainly. Did it raise my stress and anxiety? You bet. But over time, the deepest part of me came to know that it was going to be ok. Uncertainty will continue to pervade each of our lives no matter the measures we take to avoid it. But when we can approach it with a curiosity about the ways in which it might shape us, and allow it to reacquaint us with the core elements of our inner selves on which we most rely, we no longer need to live in fear of its arrival.
About the Author: Emily Rose Barr, of A Soul Awake, is a lighthearted creative who pauses to take note of laughter, color, conversation, open doors, and finer details.