Read time: 6 minutes
On June 10, 2016, basketball star LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves down 3-1 after losing Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were expected to win it all after setting the best season record of 73 wins and only nine losses. With a 3-1 lead in the finals, it’s certain that they were going to be the champs.
The Warriors were the clear favorites. Warriors stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot three-pointers with a precision that have never been seen before in league history. Their three-point shooting swag earned them the name “Splash Brothers.” They have so much going for them as a team: Curry is the 2016 season MVP, they’re the defending champs, their coach is the Coach of the Year, plus they’re popular and very likable.
Then there’s the math: of all the NBA Finals games that had to be decided in seven games, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. With the Warriors clinching records and numbers in the last two seasons, and having a deep bench, the Cavaliers seemed to have nothing new to offer and were practically expected to lose. Reality, as it seemed, had been set.
“Yeah, it’s going to be Steph takin’ it all the way!” “Yeah, it’s definitely going to be the Warriors. They’re epic!” “LeBron still has no clutch gene!”
But reality had other plans.
The Cavaliers eventually became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, winning the series 4-3. LeBron James finally got to keep his promise of bringing a major championship to the city that has had none in the last 52 years. At the time of writing, he’s enjoying and trolling his critics. Exiting from the plane on the team’s return trip to Cleveland, LeBron wore an “Ultimate Warrior” shirt and a Kermit-sipping-tea cap, making the statement that all criticisms hurled against him are none of his business.
Like LeBron and Kermit the Frog, it’s probably none of our business too. What is our business is our perception of certainty or reality. The Cavaliers’ championship win is a reminder that reality is not always fixed. Many of us have this habit of being too “realistic” and behaving as if things are already set—almost as if there’s nothing else we can do but make a choice that seems “safe” or simply accept things as they are.
It’s understandable, for life seems to work that way.
But therein lies the problem: there will always be many unknown variables. Sticking to certainty means sticking to known variables only, or what’s familiar. This leaves little to no room for newer variables that could be helpful and lets the unknown remain unknown.
On the other hand, things get too tense when we try too hard or when we try to predict too much beforehand. We forget we can’t really know everything at once.
You could have it all: money, status, and Brad Pitt’s looks, but it’s not a guarantee you’ll win people over. You could have all the resources you need, but they’re not necessarily going to get you what you want or keep you safe. You won’t really know for sure until you get to that point. You could have higher odds but those odds are not always a guarantee.
Certainty is like that long drive to Vegas, at some point you need to find a bathroom because you need to pee. Being obsessed with certainty, you can end up being too eager when trying to find the nearest bathroom. Worry then sets in and you end up panicking. Where’s that bathroom? You need to pee! And where will you park? Your unstable attitude can then create bad tension for others that are with you in the car. You end up blaming the GPS or the passenger on your right-hand side when really you’re an adult already capable of answering nature’s call on your own.
Certainty is like that controlling boyfriend a lot of women breakup with. Because he feels “certainty” is the only way, he consciously or unconsciously thinks he must control his girlfriend. He starts asking all about his girlfriend’s schedule, the people she talks to, and starts controlling almost everything else she does. This is when those feelings of being trapped set in and breakup occurs.
This is what makes reality so tricky. Nothing is always as it seems. If everything was as simple as it seemed and control was the key, then we’d all be rich. The right answers would be easier to get to. Problems would be easily solved.
Control seems to be the answer. But when perceiving certainty or reality, you’ll have to be a bit counterintuitive. You’ll have to be less obsessed. You can only control so much, and at a certain point you will need some uncertainty.
The Chinese finger trap teaches this piece of wisdom perfectly. It’s the epitome of the push-pull theory: the harder you pull, the harder it will run away from you. The harder you push, the harder it will come to you.
Removing the trap is not done by simply forcing your fingers out but by actually “relaxing” and slowly removing them. Forcing them out is exactly the linear type of thinking that traps many of us with problems.
Wars happen because of the need for certainty, people are killed, breakups happen, harsh laws are created, and economies collapse due to the need for certainty—or because of bad policies sold to people who want certainty. People even smear each other for it.
Everybody wants an absolute answer or outcome. We forget that certainty is still limited and that there will always be new variables. Certainty deals with what’s familiar, but there’s always more things to learn. There’s always more to every story.
That’s why certainty is related to insecurity and fear. It is often associated with controlling behavior and in the process is muddled with the perception that acting within certainty is being “realistic.” But reality exists on a spectrum. It exists in different and ever-changing forms. The reality we perceive is not always as all-encompassing as what is actually out there.
Known variables eventually reach their limitations. Maxed out variables lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Past success is not always a guarantee of future success. Things simply change, and as previously mentioned, this is the limitation of what is known. When you force yourself to always be certain, you limit your perspective. That’s when you prevent yourself from knowing things that are unknown to you. You devoid yourself of possible breakthroughs.
A lot of great breakthroughs and innovations we have today were once considered impossible or unrealistic. If humanity chose to remain “realistic,” or stuck with “certainty,” nothing would have changed. We wouldn’t be where we are today.
So instead of being solely certainty-driven, we need to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Long drives with family and friends would be more enjoyable. There would be less worrying about where to find the next parking. There would be less insecurity in relationships. The need for lying about or smearing others to control an outcome would be reduced. Change would be easier to accept. A different opinion would be heard. Perceived outcomes would be less exaggerated. Negative thinking would be diminished. Mistakes are easily admitted. Asking a girl out would be easier.
So, seriously, stop trying to be certain. Stop trying to be perfect. Embrace the fact that nothing is ever certain. Be like Kermit and sip some tea.
“You’re a control freak. But that’s none of my business.”
As the saying goes, “It’s not over until it’s over.” We forget that 100% certainty occurs only after an event has already taken place. The real certainty is that nothing is ever certain until it actually happens.
We’ve become validation junkies. Certainty here. Certainty there. Certainty everywhere. Reality this. Reality that. But what for? To be safe? If safety is the goal, then that’s where we miss the bigger picture. The bigger question is: what do you really want? Or what are you trying to prove?
If you haven’t asked yourself what you really want, then you may just be tired of your current situation (current relationships, job, toxic family members, etc.) and too emotionally drained to sit through a long drive. You may not be happy with your life situation, and underneath you’ve become reluctant, making you intolerant or impatient. If you are not ready for a relationship and you’re uncertain of your own worth, you may just have to let go of your partner instead of being overly jealous. If things are not in place for you, just let them go. Maybe it’s time to face your problems too. Your worth is beyond that need to fill the void just with certainty.
I’m not saying to stop being realistic. What I’m saying is to do what you can, but keep an open mind and stop obsessing over the outcome. Whatever reality you find yourself in, don’t ever lose your presence. Don’t become dismissive of new things and just believe in one way. Reality may seem fixed but it doesn’t mean you give in to fear or lose all hope.