When I was in high school, I read a passage in one of my history books about the human brain as we know it evolving during the Ice Age. I can’t remember the particulars of this passage, but the central message was that because the brain evolved during a time of extreme stress, it caused humans to naturally develop a negative outlook on life. In other words, we expect the worst because our ancient ancestors lived through the worst.
Psychologists have found that the descendants of slaves and Holocaust survivors inherit and carry trauma that they never personally experienced—this is called epigenetics, and more and more research on it is constantly coming forward to help us humans understand ourselves. Books such as The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk and It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn teach us that we go through what our families went through, and that negative experiences and emotions don’t just stay within our own bodies—they get passed on.
Still, we don’t always realize that our outlook is not only based on our own experiences—there’s more to it than we remember or fully grasp. Which means two things to me:
- Having a negative outlook is not all our fault
- But it is our responsibility to bypass that negative outlook when we can
Life has always been unpredictable. For the last few years, life has been especially unpredictable. We’ve gotten so familiar with the phrase “unprecedented times” that if we never heard it again, it would be too soon. But there’s something to be said about living through years of “unprecedented times.” I feel they’ve made me wiser—more discerning. The best way I can describe it is that my head feels clearer about the world, people, and life itself. I feel like I understand a bit better my place in the world and how much what I do now will echo into the near and distant future.
The trauma of the last few years has been a long and belabored lesson, but I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about responsibility, compassion, and empathy. I’ve learned about the worst-case scenario and how painful it can be. But, in the midst of it all, I’ve also learned about what I call the blessed maybe.
The blessed maybe is a simple concept—one I’ve been leaning into more and more. Whenever I’m about to do something, I often feel some anxiety. Whether it’s run errands, go on a first date, attend a reading, do a book event, or take on a new client, I’m expecting to be disappointed. So, I try to temper my expectations until they’re nonexistent because it’s better to feel nothing at all than to be crushed. Usually, things turn out just okay. They aren’t great and they aren’t terrible, and that’s a middle ground I’m good with.
But I’ve found that expecting nothing and then being mildly surprised sometimes is not really how I want to live. It’s okay as a baseline but not as a constant. And so, I’ve introduced the blessed maybe: Maybe I’ll run into an old friend when I’m out at the store. Maybe this first date will be fun and exciting and will introduce an interesting new person into my life. Maybe I’ll meet some cool artists at this reading and make some great connections. Maybe I’ll have a great turnout at my book event and get my writing to new readers.
Simply put: maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe it’ll all turn out great. Maybe there will be something good and worthwhile. And that blessed maybe gives me the strength to try and hope—to expect.
When negativity is the natural default, it’s easy to make decisions and judgments about everything: people, experiences, and the future. With the New Year unwritten before us and some rather hard years behind, it’s even easier to expect and fear the worst. But this year I want to challenge my natural proclivities and instead search for the blessed maybe.
So, what is your blessed maybe for 2023?Leave a Comment