How to Live with Uncertainty

We talk with journalist Maggie Jackson about her book “Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure,” and how we go about navigating life while living in a state of doubt.

Listen 49:09
Crossroad signpost saying this way, that way, the other way concept for lost, confusion or decisions

Crossroad signpost saying this way, that way, the other way concept for lost, confusion or decisions

Humans crave certainty — in science and politics, in our lives and our leaders, in our decisions and our futures. We find comfort in knowing the facts, and we fear the murky unknown. In the age of information, we’ve grown increasingly unnerved by uncertainty and do everything we can to mitigate that anxiety. We do research online, play out scenarios in our heads, make plans A, B, and C — imagining that if we can just prepare well enough, everything will be OK.

But in her latest book, “Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure,” author and journalist Maggie Jackson makes the case for an opposite way of being — embracing the unknown as an invitation to pause, an opportunity for growth and innovation.

On this episode, we talk with Jackson about her book, and what science teaches us about living — and even thriving — amid uncertainty. We also hear stories about one reporter’s quest to make a life-changing decision while filled with doubt, and how saying “yes” to the unknown changed an introvert’s life.


  • Reporter Liz Tung wrestles with one of life’s big questions: whether she and her husband should try to have children or continue on their current path as a happy childless couple. She enlists the help of friends, family members, and happiness researchers to find out if having children would make her happier than she is now? Or will not having children lead to emptiness and regret down the road?
  • What prevents us from feeling free? Often, fear plays a role — fear of rejection, ridicule, failure, or even change. But in college, Alex Chmiel decided to jettison that fear, and say yes to every opportunity that came his way. Nichole Currie tells the story of how that decision changed Chmiel’s life.

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