is it speed or certainty that you crave?
One of my most long-standing beliefs is that I am miles behind everyone else in all areas of my life. Whether true or not, this belief is the fuel that has propelled me far and fast. It made me determined to get ahead, determined to achieve all of my constantly creeping goals, and ultimately, determined to become the perfect version of myself.
I’ve always been a pretty goal-oriented person — but mostly because I frame my goals on a salvation scale. It’s not enough for achieving a thing to offer me exactly what I want — my brain craves anything I aim for to hold the key to everything that I need. As diabolical as this sounds, it’s extremely effective. With stakes that high, I’m willing to pull out all the stops. Failure just doesn’t feel like an option. By telling myself that whatever I’m reaching for will essentially allow me to achieve nirvana, I guarantee that motivation will never be in short supply.
I think a lot of terminally intellectual-brained high achievers do the same thing. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a fast fix to motivation and provides an easy answer to the age-old question of how a person might measure their self-worth: why not by your speed of growth? But with that comes the feeling that anything but progressing through life at warp speed is probably proof that you’re doing something deeply wrong.
In my case, I want things to feel hard. How else will I know that I’m making progress? In practice, this sentiment easily leads to self-sabotage. It encourages me to pick projects and people that give my overactive brain a silly sudoku-like game to play while matching my mind’s stock image of “meaningfulness.”
I’m not alone. How many times have you watched someone you consider to be generally quite smart chase after and attain a thing, only to realize that they don’t actually want the thing after all. It’s a true testament to the power of the mind how long people get stuck in this cycle; continually disproving their this-thing-is-my-savior theory and yet still somehow coming to the conclusion that it’s this next thing that they truly need and not that their savior theory is fundamentally flawed.
This is synthetic certainty in action — straight from your mental lab. It’s an intellectually-formulated feeling designed to simulate the organic farm-to-table certainty that only your heart can produce. But comparing the two reveals the difference is stark: a brain dressed as a heart will never beat the same way, no matter how hard it thinks about it.
I know this from finally getting a full serving of organic made-in-the-heart certainty through relationships. There’s something about looking over at a person and feeling an overwhelming sense of rightness that makes you reconsider how you ever made decisions any other way. The realization goes something like: “ohhhhh, so this feeling is what I was searching for all those years???”
Admittedly, a person can run on synthetic certainty for a very, very long time — but it’s like building a castle on top of a faulty foundation. Eventually, the over-intellectualized structure will crumble. This is because the human heart will simply always beat the brain in a fight. Your brain might be able to whip up a five-page single-spaced essay outlining exactly what you want and need in extensive detail, but your heart will always have the last word (and trust me, they will fit on a post-it).
This is my realization: that all those years when my mind was in the driver's seat flooring it towards the most momentous milestone it could conceive of, I actually had no idea what my heart wanted. I was optimizing for speed when what I was really craving was certainty.
There’s something deeply grounding about unequivocally knowing in your heart that something is right. Certainty requires no lengthy explanation. All of this is easy to agree with in theory, but in practice people are fast to forget that this principle applies far beyond relationships. By which I mean: maybe the best job / city / friend group for you is the one that literally just feels right almost all the time (hint hint: it’s probably because of the people). Feeling right is the opposite of ambivalence — and it’s a beautiful thing.
It’s odd how obvious yet radical that sounds to say. Uncertainty has become something of a virtue these days. We seem to be afraid brevity might make us look unintelligent or uninformed. Over-intellectualizing our decisions to signal we understand the complexity of the world is now the new norm.
I think this is a shame — and love is my shining example. Call me crazy, but maybe it’s a good sign when things feel remarkably simple and wordlessly right. And when they do, it’s interesting to look around and notice how incredibly irrelevant speed is. Certainty means you’re moving at the speed of trust — a personal pace that ultimately has no record to beat or even road to follow.