You Cannot Forget To Remember The Unknown Unknowns

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Tim Roth

Donald Rumsfeld once explained that there are known knowns, there are things we know that we know. Then there are the known unknowns, there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we don’t know we don’t know.

It’s incredible how infrequently we consider the unknown unknowns — and how much of our lives are spent preparing for them. While we’re theorizing our origins, making definitive declarations and predictions for what our tomorrows will contain, attempting to quell the potential pain that comes with possibility, we seldom realize that it’s attaching ourselves to any particular outcome that will induce what we’re trying to avoid.

And yet somehow within that process, you’ll always find things you knew though you couldn’t have possibly known. You’ll occasionally look around and think to yourself: I’ve been here before. You’ll get your heart ripped out of your chest and the first words you’ll muster up will be a frantic and sinking: “I knew this was going to happen.” You’ll regret the temporary things you got attached to. You’ll realize they were the crucial pieces of a picture you couldn’t have seen until you were no longer in the frame. You’ll realize you always knew they weren’t meant for you, and that was why you held on so tightly.

You’ll realize things were never wrong, your mindset about them was. You made the outcome bad when you decided what would be good. You couldn’t know what you didn’t know yet, but somehow, every phase of your life was preparation for the next.

During my last year of college, I sat in my apartment and wrote 50K words on my computer. I did not want to be a writer. I have an extremely difficult time expressing how I genuinely feel, when how I genuinely feel is very strong. I fear I will end up like Clarissa Dalloway, marrying a man who couldn’t say “I love you” because she was more comfortable not embracing the depth and profundity and capacity of her love. I knew I had a soulmate before I met them. I didn’t know meeting your soulmate was more often than not a traumatic and opening and gutting thing. I didn’t know I’d get a little brother at age 16. I don’t like olives. Olive is my favorite color. I am very shy, but I like people. I like to smile and talk and connect with them. Connecting is also draining. This seems like a conundrum. It is not. I had an irrational, panic-attack-inducing fear of throwing up for most of my life. I don’t think I’m a good writer but I keep writing because I think I have a good heart and I think good hearts are often wasted on being earnest and humble enough to know that you aren’t great (so you end up not sharing what you know, when it could help someone else.) I got into the college I wanted to but then couldn’t go because it was too expensive and I didn’t get enough of a scholarship. People ask questions about my life all the time and I vaguely answer, or I avoid them entirely. I have lived 12 lives within one. Not many people will know what that means. I did not want to be a writer. I used to hear the mean things people in school would say about me and for a while I believed them. For a good portion of my life, I thought I would have been happier dead. I am a down-board thinker. I speak in anticipation of what response it will elicit. This used to get me in trouble a lot. I still love the people I loved in the past. I write things on my wall in chalk, most of which are things to remember. Right now it says: “your name means ‘strong; she ascends.'” I subconsciously took a nuclear bomb to the things and people I loved most so they couldn’t destroy me first. I believe that most of my heart remains untapped. I’m sorry for who I was. I’m proud of who I am. I have an addictive personality. I am the happiest person I know. I did not want to be a writer. I once went to the top of a mountain in upstate New York, and asked random questions out loud and then just started writing down the answers. Some of the questions were: “Why is there evil in the world?” Answer: “It’s an illusion.” “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Be a writer.”

Two years later, I broke those 50K words down into essays that became articles that were put back together to become a book. I overloaded my courses because I could not stay in the toxic war-zone I created out of my deepest fears and I started working here. I learned to use my down-board thinking to write. I channeled my addictiveness into a hunger for lightness, and goodness. A friend recently told me that I am aggressively pursuing my best life. I believe that is true. I learned to love again through the little things, bit by bit. My brother was the littlest and greatest of them all. I let the same inner voice that told me that I should be a writer guide all my decisions, and I meditate when I really need to hear it. I think it is smarter than I am, but I still believe it’s me. Just a better me. A cooler me. Probably with better hair. I don’t define my life with answers to questions because it’s not ready to be framed yet. I don’t see what people say as having to do with me, just them. I never read Mrs. Dalloway, but it was an assignment in school. Getting over my irrational fears taught me how to get over my rational ones. I never wanted anything but to be a writer. I reference David Foster Wallace’s fish that don’t realize they’re swimming in water far too often because that is what most of my life has been, and as anybody can tell you, finally seeing that which is so deeply encompassing and true is an incredible thing to experience. I am most grateful for the things that went wrong — they taught me not to get attached to any particular outcome. You would not be reading this if any one of the things that went wrong went “right.”

I learned that the nonsensical things that happen are often preparations for the unknown unknowns. I learned that being in the moment isn’t just the best way to enjoy your life, it’s the only way to get ready for what’s next. I once read that you have to stop seeking answers and start living in the questions.

I am completely at peace. I’m ready for more. I’m still trying to figure out how that could be. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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