Maybe it’s not always yes or no: The power of uncertainty

We often hear we should learn to say no instead of waffling. Then again, there are books and guides and apps for people intent on embracing the notion of saying yes to everything that comes their way.

Whether you’re too agreeable, or overly disagreeable, it might be time to embrace someplace in the middle and give yourself the gift of “maybe.” Allison Carmen quite literally wrote a book on the topic, The Gift of Maybe in which she finds hope in neither yes nor no.

Carmen spoke with Ladders about some of the reasons she believes that uncertainty will actually add some peace to your life.

Make sure you’re ready to respond

“There’s nothing wrong with yes and there’s nothing wrong with no- but were you ready to say that?” asked Carmen. She believes “People are afraid of uncertainty and they think not knowing is bad.” Carmen explained that sometimes we really don’t know what might happen, but we tend to “project that things can’t get better.” Just because you don’t know which way something will go, doesn’t mean it won’t be in your favor. Sometimes it’s okay to wait and see what happens before committing one way or another.

Uncertainty can be good

Carmen reminds us “Most people forget that there’s a period of time where not knowing allows you to sit with something and be curious.” If you adopt a wait and see attitude, things might swing in your favor. “And then something happens and then you’re sure of what you should be doing,” Carmen says. “Uncertainty is good. If life is uncertain that means life can change. If you don’t like what’s happening today, you might have better luck tomorrow,” she adds. Also, if you have the answer you’ll be able to better figure out where you’re going. “It’s not about direction, it’s about making the best choices for our lives,” Carmen said.

Have you given it enough thought?

Some people jump on the immediate yes or definitive no without actually puzzling through a situation. Carmen believes those decisions can be born out of fear, in many cases, fear of the unknown. “Fear makes us say yes or no too quickly. Sometimes it’s the right answer,” she says. Then again, “The idea of maybe allows you to cut the fear. Life is full of these uncertain possibilities.” So instead of jumping to a response either way, ask yourself “Have I thought about it enough?” Carmen believes that allows you to “sit in that open space until you’re ready to make that decision.”

Don’t write your story

Carmen offers the example that most people write their life stories and have certain expectations. Maybe they think they’ll have X number of dollars in the bank by the time they hit 50, or a perfect spouse or home. The truth is though, life rarely turns out the way we think. “We never knew how this was going to work out. We just made up these stories” Carmen said. And in some instances, maybe can be a calming factor- it was for her. “Maybe leaves me open. It quiets the fear and allows me to end up in the unknown until I can figure it out,” she said. Besides, if you don’t limit yourself to either yes or no, there’s endless possibility around the corner.

If you’re worried about seeming wishy-washy, here are some tips for embracing more maybe:

  • Don’t use maybe as a crutch: If you’re coming from a place of fear where you’re avoiding what you want to do, then it’s a crutch. “If you’re making a decision clouded by fear- it’s all the same” Carmen adds. If we’re afraid that something won’t work out, it’s the fear not the maybe.
  • Be clear: Don’t leave people hanging. Carmen says “I think you have to be clear.” If you’re not sure if you want a job offered to you, explain why you might need time to respond. Carmen says you can offer something like “This sounds great but I have to consider certain things in my life.” Don’t leave it open-ended, give them a timeline when they’ll have your response one way or another.
  • Don’t avoid a yes or no: If you’re using maybe to avoid a situation, it’s a cop-out. If instead, you’re opening up to allow yourself to see what life might have in store for you, you’re on the right track. Carmen said “Maybe seems like a simple word, but it reminds you that the uncertainty means that life can change. Maybe it can work out.”