The Wisdom of Uncertainty

with Maggie Jackson

These are uncertain times for so many of us.

But, according to writer Maggie Jackson, perhaps there is deep wisdom to be uncovered too—surprising gifts of curiosity, creative thinking, open-mindedness, and ways forward through the (often) unpredictabilities of life.




Maggie Jackson

Maggie Jackson is an award-winning author and journalist known for her prescient writings on social trends, particularly technology’s impact on humanity. Her new book Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure (Nov. 7, 2023) has been lauded as "remarkable and persuasive" (Library Journal); "trending" (Book Pal); "incisive and timely-triumphant" (Dan Pink); and "both surprising and practical" (Gretchen Rubin). Nominated for a National Book Award, Uncertain was named a Top 10 Social Sciences book of 2023 by Library Journal and a Top 50 Psychology book of the year by the Next Big Idea Club. Her acclaimed book Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention sparked a global conversation on the steep costs of our tech-centric, attention-deficient modern lives. Jackson is a sought-after speaker, appearing at Harvard Business School, the New York Public Library, the annual invitation-only Forbes CMO summit, the Simmons and other top women’s leadership conferences, and other corporations, libraries, hospitals, schools, religious organizations, and bookstores. A graduate of Yale University and the London School of Economics with highest honors, Jackson lives with her family in New York and Rhode Island.

Show Notes

Read Maggie’s book: Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure.

Learn more about the amazing Maggie Jackson!

Ann Atwater was a civil rights activist who partnered with and befriended a KKK leader, C.P. Ellis, on a committee to desegregate schools in Durham, NC.  The story of this unlikely friendship was told in the book written by Osha Gray Davidson called The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South. It became a major motion picture in 2019 called The Best of Enemies.

After meeting Ann Atwater Maggie wrote an article, An Antidote to Prejudice, to share more about her research on perspective-taking.

Dorthy Day was an American journalist and social activist who wrote an article about Poverty and Precarity. You can learn more about Dorthy Day in her autobiography The Long Loneliness.


Discussion Questions

  1. Kate admits that, “For so long, my life rested on a series of certainties that made it coherent … I miss that.” How can you work to grieve your previous assumptions of certainty and embrace the hidden beauties of uncertainty?
  1. Scripture is filled with followers of God who are called into uncertain, seemingly impossible situations. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham : “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Are there any parallels between Abraham’s uncertain future and your own life journey?
  1. Kate and Maggie talk about the hope of leaning into uncertainty and “being awake to the world, as beautiful and terrible as it can be.” Where have you observed the beautiful and terrible within the uncertain places of your life?


Kate Bowler: Oh, hello. My name is Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. And I’m not a fan of uncertainty. It’s just, there’s this terrible feeling that I feel like is the feeling of inching toward the edge of a cliff. Like, you can feel your little toes dangle over the edge. You feel the gust of wind making your knees shake. This feeling of living in uncertainty. You can’t un-know it. It’s anxiety and fear. And also requires us to have some hard-won courage. But these are uncertain times for so many of us. If you turn on the news, you hear more about the delicate geopolitical conflicts and fragile democracies. Not to mention our personal lives that are always riddled with unknowns and what-ifs. I’ve come to believe that the trick is not learning to escape uncertainty. I mean that so much of what I love talking about with our guests is, how do we learn to live here like this and turn the volume up on our hope and our courage? Today I’m speaking with someone who studies uncertainty and— and this is the fun part—the surprising gifts of being able to withstand it. The curiosity it encourages, the creative thinking it allows for, and the discipline of living with an open mind toward others, to be able to find a little more common humanity and a way forward as we all manage the unpredictability of life. So all of these things—curiosity, creative thinking, discipline of an open mind—these all might end up being our superpowers. But before we dive into the conversation, we’re going to take a quick break to tell you about some of our sponsors of the show that make everything happen. We’ll be right back.

Kate: Maggie Jackson is an award-winning author and journalist known for her prescient writings on social trends, particularly technology’s impact on humanity. She has a gorgeous way of writing in such a way that you feel the intense stakes, emotional-mental stakes of, of who she has applied her mighty pen to. She is the author of a book that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s called Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure. Maggie, this is my mental super heaven and you’re in it. So thank you so much.

Maggie Jackson: It’s so great to be here. Wonderful to share this time.

Kate: I think we all understand the feeling of being uncertain. Like the anxiousness, that prickly, racey, anticipatory… But I wondered if you could just start us there. How do you define this fear of uncertainty?

Maggie: Well, first, I think just to define it a little bit, in very brief, people talk about the uncertainty and that’s sort of a shorthand for the unknown. You know, you really don’t know if the volcano will erupt next Tuesday despite your probabilistic mathematical models, etc.. So we’re always living with the unknown, what we don’t know. But then, in compliment—I don’t even, it’s not in contrast, it’s in compliment—there is our uncertainty and that is the human response to the unknown. That’s what happens to humanity when we meet something new or murky or ambiguous. And, you know, that’s really where we get that unsettling feeling. We are, by nature, humans who need answers. I mean, like any organism, but we need answers. We need to survive by gaining answers. So when we meet these new, you know, difficult, murky things along, you know, the shadow on the trail or the new, you know, day on the job, etc.. We have a stress response. So the body and brain kind of fling into action, spring into action, and your heart might beat or your palms by sweat, etc., you know, depending on the circumstances, but at the same time, new discoveries of probing into this mindset are showing that the brain undergoes remarkable changes, such as your focus widens, you know, you become more, kind of aware. They even call it curious eyes, which is fantastic. And your working memory is bolstered and then your brain becomes more receptive to new data. This is very, very new science. And so basically, scientists now think of uncertainty as good stress. As wakefulness, which is not what we think of.

Kate: No! ‘Cause I saw your book title and I was like, no, Maggie, I, I hate uncertainty. All I do is try to survive uncertainty. So even just that first step of you in a very reasonable way, saying like this hatred of uncertainty is part of being…like, there’s good reason, there’s biological, there’s like there’s organic reasons for my deep and abiding hatred.

Maggie: Right? And yet it is precisely, you know, our natural signal of the brain. Well, one neuroscientist told me the brain is telling itself at that moment that there’s something to be learned here. Which is huge. The, you know, the status quo won’t do. And now it’s time to update your view of the world. People who are most stressed in unpredictable, difficult, dynamic situations are the ones who are most accurate and good performers. So therefore it’s again, it’s that wakefulness. It’s that in being in tune with your environment and actually, one of the stress hormones that’s released, norepinephrine is related to cognitive effort. So if we retreat or back away or even just decide this uncertainty is no good, I’m not having anything to do with it, we’re kind of squandering this incredible, epic chance. I literally call it an epic chance to learn, to learn and to grow and to thrive.

Kate: So the idea that uncertainty could be a gift, I, I think this is partly why I read your book so slowly is because I think because for so long, my life rested on a series of certainties that made it coherent and, frankly, lovely and seamless. And I miss it. I miss that diluted, sweet self all the time. And then, and like, she was great. But unfortunately, that is apparently not the way of the world. And now that I’m in, I have the awareness of the sort of fissures into everything, I’m constantly trying to think like, how do I live in this wildly unpredictable place? I mean, and there’s so many layers of this argument that I want to ask you about, but even just that first desire in the face of difficulty to shut down. To not have that kind of wakefulness. What are the downsides to making these really fast choices about a scary world?

Maggie: Right? Well, there are so many. I mean, basically, when you shut down on uncertainty, you are closing your mind to, you know, what is the unknown? There’s a kind of, expression in child development, but as it pertains so much to adult growth as well, which is the zone of proximal development that’s often used as a shorthand for scaffolding, but it really means to be at the edge of what you know and pushing, expanding that forward. So it’s, as one scientist told me, it’s the green bud on the tree. It’s where the action is. And so that if you are certain you are basically on an island in your comfort zone, you’re not expanding that. And so one kind of concrete way to look at this, perhaps, is that it tells us two things. One is, you know, why uncertainty is not just a wakeful moment that then we then we want to rustle, you know, rush past. It’s an accompaniment to all great earning and thinking and creativity. It, actually, I went into this book thinking, oh, chapter one: uncertainty. Then we’ll get into the meat of good thinking and etc. but I was so wrong. So one example is the, what expertise is. So, you know, I went up to Toronto actually.

Kate: Thank you. Thank you for your service.

Maggie: I witnessed, yeah, I witnessed I was in the operating room only in Canada and with my little tape record, watching one of Canada’s top surgeons taking out the cancerous half of a gentleman’s liver. But the surgeon was all efficiency, you know, barking orders, telling this junior surgeon to go faster, faster. And so he is our ideal of what an expert is, no matter what the domain. And yet he is, we have to ask ourselves, is that really the, you know, what we want to see in an expert? At one point in the operation, he thought he had cut the bile duct, which is an anathema, you know, never, never do this kind of moment. And the operation fell silent. And what had occurred illustrated precisely, you know, heuristic, or well-honed, knowhow is actually of the creation of these, you know, solutions that we apply to recognizable problems. You know, we just see that the chest pain equals heart attack, etc., etc., etc.. And so we’re applying our knowledge. And we can be impressive and facile and a certain kind of expert, but outside unpredictable environments, that kind of expert, called the routine expert, and, and the one we idolize actually begins to fail. And so, you know, years of experience are actually only weakly or not correlated at all with skill and accuracy in many, many different fields from, you know, science to medicine to, you know, sports. And so, in contrast, adaptive experts are the ones who break the inertia of their knowing in order to gain greater ends. They actually… Adaptive experts, which is a kind of a new type of expertise, it hasn’t really been discovered until very recently. And these experts actually spend more time assessing a new messy problem than even novices do, that what they’re doing is using that wakefulness and entering the space of uncertainty and exploring, one roboticist told me, uncertainty is a space of possibility.

Kate: I see. That adaptive expertise… I’ve had the privilege now of being able to interview all kinds of people who stay really curious. And until I read your book, I hadn’t really connected the dots of how much their willingness to tolerate not knowing, to feel dumb, to ask another question, to look at it from another side. I guess that’s why I’ve really loved them so much, is in my own experience as a patient, I was so terribly misdiagnosed because I was on the superhighway of one kind of knowledge. Oh, people don’t get colon cancer at my age. Therefore, she can’t possibly have stomach pains that are that bad and therefore… So I just kind of like in the A or B model just ended up in the wrong stream. And since then, the people who are willing to like, pump the brakes twice, relook at the map, look at it with me. I’ve been so impressed by how hard it is to… How did you describe it again? It was like about questioning what you think you know. You said it…

Maggie: Break the inertia of your knowledge. Because that’s where we’re most comfortable.

Kate: Perfect. Ugh. That’s so good.

Maggie: Yeah. And that’s so related to curiosity, too, because, actually curiosity we think of, you know, as a jolly good thing. And we sort of, I think of, anyhow, curiosity as being this six-year-old’s skill. But at the same time, research related to curious people show that one of the most important components of curiosity is tolerance of uncertainty. In other words, they are the ones who can be uncomfortable and ask the questions. And yet they also continue to pursue. So you can be curious, and, you know, it’s wonderful you’re asking questions. But the people who really move further into that, the dissenters at work, the people who explore even further, are the ones that who, who are, you know, sort of willing to go forth despite the discomfort. So again, we are not escaping that, you know, discomfort word. Which is really different than fear.

Kate: One of the things about uncertainty, it seems, it sort of changes the quality of time around us. I mean, I’ve noticed like for some situations of great uncertainty, everything just feels like a, like a slide show. I’m not able to, like, synthesize what’s happening. And that seems like a fear response. But there’s been other times, even, I’m just thinking of hospital examples. But even in the same hospital, when I’ve been able to, like, feel more rooted and then I can get back to a questioning place. And even, you know, let’s say it feels a little more dynamic, and also, can I have some peanut butter crackers? And why are you doing that to my arm? And but like getting back to curiosity. Are we able to kind of shift gears between those frameworks?

Maggie: Yeah, no, I think I mean, part of it is expectation, actually, in these studies of new learning and dynamic environments, show that when you expect there not to be change and there could be, you know, you refuse to admit change, then you are less likely to pick up on change. And I think this answers your peanut butter cracker question. What occurs is that when you are shutting down, you often are thinking of outcome. You know, or is this going to be terrible? Or, you know, I can’t wait to get out of here, which is natural. Again, all very natural, these are all natural pathways to understanding high-stakes moments. But at the same time, that’s closing you off from being present in the moment and perhaps picking up information or nuance or other people’s perspectives. One of the psychological assessments that are most horrifying that, you know, psychologists can give people, you’re giving a talk, a five-minute talk that you have very little time to prepare in front of three judges who are really glowering at you and taking notes. Yeah. It’s awful. And then you’re asked to count backwards by seven, and people often just quit. I mean, they just quit. But if they are kind of told about this approach mode and so therefore able to be in the uncertainty, then they become more engaged.

Kate: That’s a perfect word, right? As opposed to this is either rather performing: I’m giving it to you or I’m receiving: this is happening to me, it sounds like that, it’s that shifting into gear with it.

Maggie: Yes. Which is very, it’s a very uncomfortable thing to do to wake up to the world. But at the same time, when there’s so many ways in which we live in a certainty-seeking culture, when we have such a bias from, you know, hundreds of years of the rationalist efficiency-seeking and, you know, ideas that the goal is what matters and the process is just carnage along the road, and then we’re given little devices that psychologists now call certainty-seeking devices. And so there are there’s actually evidence that our intolerance of uncertainty is rising. And many experts that I’ve talked to think so too. So in that place, I think, you know, a little bit of understanding of uncertainties, wakefulness, but also it’s space. It’s yes, it slows you down. A daydream is uncertainty in action, I call it, you know.

Kate: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. It’s like you think that… The way you describe thoughts as sort of needing a little oxygen. I just thinking of, you know, Ford-ism, like the, the theory that came from Henry Ford and the industrial model of the assembly line and that we learned a lot about labor when we broke people’s motions down into parts. And, oh, look, we can build cars faster, but we have this very Ford test, very “everything is for something” attitude, even toward our thoughts. And you give us a nice argument for thoughts that don’t always have to be useful.

Maggie: Exactly. And, and the sort of center or the cut of my book. You know, the middle of my book is about daydreaming and then what I call fallow time, which is that quiet time that, you know, we might know that it’s good to sleep on a problem, although we don’t listen to that anymore. And we might know that it’s good to, you know, pause before, I don’t know, yelling at someone, you know. But at the same time, that research into the power, the efficacy of pausing, resting and time spacing, spacing things, just reading slowly as you said you were doing, that just blew me away. There are two parts. One is letting your mind catch up to experience. And so I came away thinking about it. When you’re pausing even for a couple minutes, not only is your memory likely for something you’ve just done likely to improve by 20%— even this has occurred in people with Alzheimer’s, which is almost a kind of miracle. If they don’t switch immediately to another task, then they have this great memory boost. But there’s more to it than that because. Your mind is a living, evolving, changing architecture, a kind of branching tree, in a Darwinist kind of image, that is actually always changing. And your mind, when it’s given to its own devices, so to speak, is actually beginning to sift and sort in crosstalk between the hippocampus and the cortex is beginning to sift and sort and curate where things might fit in your knowledge, where things go. In fact, if you’re understanding something that’s contrary or contradictory to what you think or believe, it’ll take longer even weeks to actually process and create a memory. And Darwin knew this. He actually made sure to write down, evidence that went contrary to his own theories, because he knew that those would slip away if he didn’t actually try to bolster these and living organic ideas.

Kate: It sounds like that the speed of actual meaning-making doesn’t go nearly as fast or as efficiently as our very machine-like analogies.

Maggie: Yes, yes, exactly.

Kate: Because I keep, I always say stuff like that, like “We are not mental machines!” But like, you’re like, no, really, we’re not mental machines.

Maggie: No, exactly. I’m really trying to sort of move away from, oh, you know, uploading or I’m programmed to do this or we are hardwired to do that because that, that negates the humanity. I mean, we are biology. We’re not deficient machines that can’t compute as fast as the neural networks that we’re creating. We’re actually living beings who might not actually understand what life deeply, deeply can do for us. And I think it has a lot to do with restoring faith in the human mind.

Kate: We’ll be right back.

Maggie: We’re so focused on a cultural sort of allergy that we have to uncertainty. So much so that CEOs or political leaders who are viewed pausing and deliberating about a new conflict, problems, are promptly labeled less influential than the people who rush.

Kate: Oh my gosh…You’re like, people yelled, people being told that they’re flip-flopers when they’re like, oh no no no, I just need a minute for a very complicated problem.

Maggie: Exactly. And we might have a cultural bias against uncertainty because we want A or B and we want to get to B, but at the same time, there’s also this enormous cultural bias against, anything that’s not knowing. It’s seen as a vacuum, you know, so the liminal, the gray spaces, the ambiguity, etc. are just seen as something that’s a no man’s land. And I went into this book thinking that, I honestly did. I really, I began to find that there was incredible science being done about uncertainty that was really new. I mean, in other words, we have, as society, has been so task and goal-oriented that not only do we not like to be in these uncertain places, but people didn’t like to study them. I mean, that’s how daydreaming was kind of the, daydreaming default mode networks were discovered that people were sitting there lying in a scanner, and when the, they weren’t doing the task that the scientists asked them to do, their brain was more active than when they were doing the game or the problem or etc.. And so it was kind of this really strange idea that maybe there was something else there. And there were actually shouting matches, at psychology conferences saying you can’t really study nothing because that’s not psychology. There’s no task. And yet, you know, the default mode is an incredible, you know, brain network related to making meaning and self, you know, identity and etc., it almost was just missed. Missed!

Kate: Because if you were a self-help author, it would go: “Uncertainty. Five Steps for Overcoming It.” And then it would be like, “Do you sometimes feel like you don’t know what’s ahead? Great. We have a solution for that.”

Maggie: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Well, as I began poking my nose into this, I thought that I found so much predominant literature on the probabilistic, you know, risk assessment. Let’s profit from the uncertainty, let’s find out the likelihood.

Kate: There’s a kind of person I meet every now and then. I’m just thinking of certain professions in which uncertainty is built into the job environment, and they seem to kind of come alive. The easy analogy might be like the emergency room doctor, but there’s the there’s a kind of brightness that they get in situations that would otherwise stress people out. Do you think that they, are they just magical creatures? Or do you think that this ability to sort of quicken and become more alert is something that people like me could learn?

Maggie: Oh, absolutely. I mean, now research psychologists are actually helping people practice being in the unknown with taught in tiny little ways and finding that this lowers anxiety. It lowers depression, worry, it both boosts resilience. And I’m talking about studies in multiple sclerosis patients, as you know, long-term conditions or just college students or the people with the most intractable anxiety.

Kate: Those seem to be the people you’re like, just leave them alone. Like like they’re already stressed out, like, don’t make, don’t make people’s lives harder.

Maggie: I know, and but there are very simple, practical steps. I mean, often I want to exercise is to try a new dish on a restaurant, which seems, oh, come on, you know, really? But then I think to myself, well you like to go to the Neighborhood Bistro on Friday, and what do you always get, Maggie? The clam spaghetti. It’s like, it really is hard to jostle yourself. And so, one exercise that’s actually going to be assigned to high schoolers in Columbus, Ohio, in, in the spring by Ohio State researchers is to answer their cell phone without caller ID. And that’s something that a young relative of mine, I’ve been told to mask her identity, said, would be terrifying for her generation.

Kate: Oh my Gosh.

Maggie: Yes. To answer the cellphone and, oh yeah, maybe it’ll be spam, but it’s just that not knowing. And what’s really most interesting is that they’re using the core premise of uncertainty to become more flexible and nimble and adaptable and curious about the world. In other words, they make a prediction often when they’re doing this. Oh, I usually cancel first dates because it’s all just too unknown. And so I’m going to say to myself, well, maybe X will happen or Y will happen. And what happens is their predictions usually don’t come true. It’s not a disaster or it’s not, you know, they don’t get married the next day or, you know, so basically they discover that their certainty about this unknown has been broken. They’re breaking the inertia of their knowledge again. And so I think that it’s really sort of a double wonderful exercise because as one scientist told me, no surprise, no learning.

Kate: No surprise, no learning. Oh that’ so true. Because it sounds, too, like micro-dosed exposure therapy. Where you’re like, okay, I’m going to, I’m going to do it to myself. No clam spaghetti for me.

Maggie: Right. Exactly.

Kate: We’re in a, I mean, there’s such an enormous social implication for what you’re describing, this information. “Information age” goes in quotation marks, this “information age” that has sorted us into such sharp binaries. You like this, you’re bad. You hate this, you’re good. I’m right, you’re deluded. It does seem like the most pressing question of today’s climate is how do we pry our hearts and minds open to each other when we’re, it feels like it would be safer and smarter to just, like, foreclose that connection.

Maggie: Right. Exactly, exactly. No, I think it’s, I think there’s a social side to uncertainty that’s very, very important for us to begin to delve into, as you say, because we’re behind, you know, we’re inside the walls of our own perspective and don’t even want to look. I mean, 80, 80% of Republicans, but equal numbers of Democrats think the other side, politically has few or no good ideas. And you know, the dehumanization, the book bans, the hate, you know, etc., etc. and actually, I came down to Durham to do, to meet a civil rights activist who, you know, who had who had an amazing life. But really…

Kate: Oh yes, you met Durham’s own Ann Atwater, is that right?

Maggie: I did, I did, and it was really only a few weeks before she died. And, she was, you know, and still is this extraordinary hero. But, you know, partly because in 1973, when they were just about to desegregate the schools and tensions were running high, she was co-chair of a series of meetings to pave the way for the desegregation of the schools. And her, her partner co-chair was the local, KKK Klan leader. And, it was an amazing, you know, phenomenon that they were even named to co-chair these meetings, but secondly, that they were pulled off, but then she did something which entirely illustrates, you know, one of the most amazing strategies now, gaining a lot of attention is something called perspective taking for, for pushing back on prejudice and bias. When people merely take the perspective of a refugee or a convicted felon or, you know, the opposite side politically, they are actually willing to sit closer to them. They’re willing to see them as a teammate. They’re willing to engage, which, of course, then begins to have its own inner-virtual cycle. So what’s amazing is the perspective-taking is just a leap of imagination. You do not know what their perspective is. Even if you love and they’re your twin sister, you know, you don’t know anyone’s perspective. And so you are, by taking this leap of imagination into their perspective, you’re actually kind of jolting your assumptions in a way that loosens that label and that categorization that’s so innate. And what Ann Atwater did at the close of these meetings was to bring in a gospel choir to celebrate, which is lovely. And but, but her partner, C.P. Ellis, actually put up an exhibit that same evening. He kind of retreated from the collaboration that they had been experiencing. And it was a, you know, a hateful, terrible Klan, you know, exhibit of paraphernalia and photos, etc.. And at the moment when a group of teenagers in a largely black neighborhood were coming to tear down, you know, you could say naturally so, to take down that exhibit, she blocked the door and yelled, you can’t do that. What are you doing? You can’t. You have to see what makes him think to know where another person is. You know that that is, you know how we can go forward. And I’m paraphrasing, but it was an incredible act that still ripples through history. And they became friends and he quit the Klan. And we can’t say it was only that moment. But what she was doing was saying. Basically when we can see the potential in another, not there set in stone wrong, then the door might open to change. If we only see them as you know, case closed, absolutely wrong, not even human, than together and what she did was she removed herself from being his enemy because she gave him the entry point to change and for them to move forward together. And it was it was an incredible moment. It was incredible moment. All based on uncertainty. Yes.

Kate: Right. You know, I think it was a long time before I even allowed uncertainty to like change my actual mental grid. I think I had, I had still largely been thinking of uncertainty as just the big bad. Like just the awfulness of living in a world that’s not fair, or… It was the work of Dorothy Day and her account of precarity that changed my mind. Reinhold Niebuhr had also been talking about precarity, the, the, the uncertainty. The, things can be taken away at any minute feeling. But he had described precarity as the thing that has to be overcome, like, “and then soon we’ll get back to the way things were.” And she just really, I mean, I’m sure because she was, chose to live with people who had no secure housing, you know, and that her movement never had enough money and, you know. And, of course, you know, people who choose to live in poverty among people who are impoverished, they, like, understand that you can like, you have to take on the presuppositions of it. But man, like when she just described it as like the the lens through which you can see things, that really clicked something in my brain. But until I saw your book, Maggie, I had not at all a thought about the scientific and social implications of, of maybe it as a gift. So like, thank you so much for describing ways that it can help us pay attention and tune in and then, and reengage in a world that otherwise feels so scary and overwhelming.

Maggie: Writing this book changed how I relate to, you know, friends who are in a difficult moment. Whether to, instead of trying to hurry them out of it or paper them or paper over it to maybe protect my own anxious self, now I have much more capability of being with them in it.

Maggie: Yeah. It’s helping make me softer, or at least I hope, more responsive to life as it actually is.

Maggie: Not as you wish it to be, or assume it to be. That’s so perfectly yes.

Kate: Until everyone puts me in charge and then, oh my gosh, utopia.

Maggie: Well, I’ll vote for you.

Kate: Maggie, you are my brain friend, and I am so grateful to have met you.

Maggie: Oh, thank you for a wonderful conversation.

Kate: In a world that often craves clear answers and neat categories, maggie extends an invitation to embrace uncertainty as a gift, a gift that keeps our curiosity alive. I liked that so much. Instead of just saying, wow, this is creating a lot of anxiety, we can also just say, wow, this is creating a lot of I mean, it could be vigilance, but it could also just be an openness, an aliveness to what’s happening. So yes, as Maggie says, the volcano might erupt next Tuesday. But if we learn to tolerate more and more uncertainty, we can be more and more awake to the world, as beautiful and terrible as it can be. So how about we just bless the uncertainty for a minute? That feeling we get of knowing our un-knowing, if that makes any sense.

Kate: Blessed are you who live here, the space between simple categories and easy answers. You who wonder why this is your life. Why you have this diagnosis, or you still struggle with infertility, or why you can’t kick this addiction. Or maybe why your kids haven’t launched. Blessed are you who built a home on uneasy ground. Who, despite your trying and asking and searching, haven’t found the satisfying feeling of discovery. And blessed are you who never will. This is not an easy place to live, outside of certainty, outside of knowing, outside of the truth. But blessed are you who realize that love and beauty and courage and meaning can still be found here, amid the unease and frustration and sleepless nights. May you be surprised by your capacity for ambiguity, for the way it makes you a great listener and a good friend for you or someone else who knows how to feel your way around the dark and squint for the stars. I wish it were easier, lovey. I wish I could have the answers you seek, but for now, maybe you find comfort in the fact that you are not alone, here in the gray. We are all learning to live in the uncertainty of the unknowing. So blessed are we who live here together in these beautiful, terrible days.

Kate: Okay, darlings. A big thank you to our generous partners who make all things possible and everything happens. I am a massive fan of the Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, and Duke Divinity School. Thank you. Thank you for caring about theological education and faith in media projects like this one. This podcast is my favorite thing to do together and I have an incredible team Jess Richie, Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Heginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Hope Anderson, Kristen Balzer, Jeb Byrd, Sammi Filippi, and Katherine Smith. Thank you for making beautiful things with me. And we do it all because of and for listeners like you. Yes, you, heading to the doctor’s or making dinner again—why does that have to happen every night? You are our absolute favorite and we are so grateful to get to make useful things for you. Let us know who you want to hear from this season. Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Oh my gosh, these things matter so much and it only takes a few seconds. Or call us and leave us a voicemail at (919) 322-8731. Oh, and hey, do you know that we also have full videos available of each of our interviews? Head over to and we’ll link it in the show notes if you’d like to watch or share with others. Okay, next week I’m going to be speaking with Emma Gannon. We’re going to be talking about navigating burnout and how we might think about what success and ambition really look like in our lives. You will not want to miss it. Until then, this is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler.

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