• tatum van dam

embracing uncertainty



Last year, I had to make a decision. Anyone who knows me knows that decisions have never come easy to me.


I was presented with an ultimatum that caused copious amounts of emotional distress. So much so that I could not sleep, I could not drive my car, I could not open my eyes past a squint -- I could hardly hold down food. My brain was in overdrive, and my body was out of fuel. This decision felt like my whole life depended on it, and I found myself letting a series of hypotheticals dictate my emotional and physical well being.


I heard a quote that goes, “If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.”

Every day, we make choices, whether we are fully conscious of them or not. We choose what time to roll out of bed, whether we want to get dressed up in a blouse and jeans or throw on a hoodie over our pajamas, which mug we want to drink out of, if we are pouring coffee or tea into that mug… you understand the point: we make a lot of choices every day.


Lately, my mind has been consumed with thoughts surrounding the impact of the “everyday” choices versus the “not-so-everyday-choices,” and exactly what distinguishes one from the other. For example, what makes choosing between coffee or tea any different than choosing if we want to move across the country, or end a relationship, or change a career path? Oftentimes, the latter is referred to as “life changing decisions,” while the former is hardly acknowledged as a substantial choice to begin with. What I am beginning to realize is that with each choice we make, regardless of how “big” or “little,” impacts us -- not necessarily for better or for worse. Any choice we make ever-so-slightly redirects the course of our lives from that point on. Sometimes, most of the time, the “little” decisions are the ones that cause the “big” changes in our lives.


Think about the small choices that ended up largely impacting your life. While you take some time to think, I will tell you a few of mine:

  • Sitting in the front of the classroom instead of my usual seat in the back.

  • Applying to a school in France just for fun.

  • Watching a YouTube video.

  • Writing a letter.

  • Downloading Photoshop.

  • Showing my friend’s friends around Paris because she wasn’t able to.*

Sitting in the front of the classroom instead of my usual seat in the back led me to meet someone who ended up being my first true love. Applying to a school in France for the heck of it led me to start my college career in Paris, which has arguably been the most formative and unforgettable experience of my life thus far. Watching a YouTube video prompted my initial love for the internet and content creation at a young age, which eventually led to studying film in college and creating content to this day. Writing a letter led me to a penpal who has continually served as a creative inspiration, and, who became a friend extending beyond words on paper and wax seals on envelopes. Downloading Photoshop led me to discover the world of zine-making and photo editing, which has now led me to pursue a career in creative journalism.


*As for my last example, “showing my friend’s friends around Paris because she wasn’t able to,” I want to provide context, because I imagine that is a rather confusing sentence to visualize. (Please forgive me, I couldn’t think of a better way to word it. I know I am a writer, but that doesn't mean I always know how to write.) While living in Paris, I became friends with a girl. Let’s call her Susie. Susie had friends who, at the time, were studying abroad in Rome. In November of 2016, the friends came to visit Susie in Paris, and on the night the friends arrived, she was unable to host them due to a club meeting. And so, Susie asked my roommate and I to show her friends around the city. Little did I know, the friends I made that night would end up being my housemates for the entirety of college. And beyond housemates, they would end up being my best friends. All because Susie had a club meeting.



(Left: 2016, the night we met in Paris / Right: 2020, one of our last days as housemates in Los Angeles)


See what I mean? The “big life decisions" are only as big as we make them out to be. Something as “little” as choosing a seat in a classroom could have just as much of an impact, if not more, than choosing to move across the country. It is just a matter of divine timing.

Do not get me wrong; it is so easy to get caught up in the uncertainty of life (2020 as a universal example of this)…but that is exactly what life is: uncertain. I do not necessarily have future goals, because what I currently want in my life might not equate to what future Tatum wants. Beyond the eventual coffee-flower shop hybrid I hope to open one day, I do not have concrete life goals and I am thoroughly convinced that anyone with a "5 year plan" is using it as a way to avoid confrontation with uncertainty. The older I get, the more I realize that everyone is just trying to figure it out.


The root of all “hard” decisions lies in the uncertainty of not choosing the alternative, is it not? We conjure up the best and worst possible case scenarios for choosing one thing over the other, failing to realize that these scenarios do not exist in the present moment. And, regardless of what decision one ultimately makes, the scenarios in question might not end up happening after all. This is what I refer to as the “world of hypotheticals” -- the ideas we create in our mind that do not, and might not, exist.



i'd say enjoy your stay but it's not fun
a visual representation of the world of hypotheticals

Circling back to my ultimatum that caused me, arguably, the most emotionally-induced pain I have ever been in: I ultimately came to a decision, and it was difficult. I knew what I needed to do, but that did not make it any easier to do it. The days, weeks, and months that followed were met with tears over something that was once there and is no longer, but I cannot ignore the beautiful moments that coexisted with my healing wound. My choice led me to people and places and experiences that might have not otherwise occurred. It has been over a year since that ultimatum. Truthfully, I am growing into the person I am meant to become, and I am going to the places where I am meant to go, all because of that decision. It felt like the end of the world at the time, when, in actuality, I was allowing myself to open the door to a new one.



a collage of the beautiful moments and people in question


I came across another quote: “The future lies in uncertainty. Live immediately.”

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this article, it is exactly that: Live immediately. Especially after the catastrophic -- pardon my French -- shit show that was 2020, I am beginning to learn to find comfort in the unknown. I do not know what this year holds for me, hell, I do not know what tomorrow holds for me, let alone what the next hour has in store for me. If we begin to embrace uncertainty, then maybe we can learn to place less value on the decisions we make. There is no such thing as a big or small decision. Things only have as much value as you give them.


We cannot control the outcome of any choice we make, so we might as well immerse ourselves into what we can control: the present moment. This moment where I am sitting at my desk, typing this sentence, and eating a strawberry as my dog sleeps on the floor next to me, and as you read this sentence, interpreting this combination of words in your brain, wherever you may be in this very moment.


From this point forward, I choose to embrace uncertainty.

How about you?

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