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March 18, 2019

Getting a student into wilderness therapy requires the effort of many dedicated and committed people. By the time students reach Pacific Quest, they’re in deep, open to at least giving it a try…until they don’t. Uncertainty and fear arise, and then questions emerge like, “Where will this journey lead me,” and the externalization we so often witness in the form of “Why are my parents doing this to me?”

This generation of student consistently shows up with applications to PQ that read, “I am depressed and anxious.” Why is this? Is it the environmental uncertainty, the current instability of our political system, combined with the gun violence in schools and messages they heard as children like, “you can be anything you want to be” until they find that they need to struggle much harder than they thought would be required while trying to flourish in a college setting without the support system grounded in their parents’ involvement?

The notion that “Life is happening for you, not to you” is a powerful reframe that can shift the sense of failure, and the fear of uncertainty to excitement and then hope.

Lately I’ve been running a group built around this topic of uncertainty and the theme of life is happening for you, not to you. I talk about the Yale University study (https://qz.com/1343503/a-new-study-from-yale-scientists-shows-how-uncertainty-helps-us-learn/) that says that the brain benefits from volatility and that uncertainty switches on the learning parts of our brain.

When I teach this to our students they experience a shift in perspective. Maybe this “not knowing” is a good thing, maybe I’m not failing or screwed up forever. Maybe I don’t have to complete college in four years. Maybe I just need to learn more skills to make it work out there. The shame falls away and the possibility that I am right where I need to be emerges. A significant shift occurs as the student moves from victim-hood to sovereignty.

I don’t know about you, but most of the really juicy changes in my life have not been planned, rather they emerged from my courage to embrace uncertainty and follow my heart, trusting that if I stay healthy, and do the right things and show up with kindness and compassion towards myself and others that great things will happen, and they have.

Students at PQ and their families step into uncertainty when they enroll with us, and it takes a collective effort to hold the uncertainty with confidence that what we do works, and it does. They begin to build small positive experiences that reinforce a belief in their personal agency, defined as the ability to set ones own course, and to be effective at reaching ones own goals in life. Stepping into the uncertainty, the mystery of life brings expansion of consciousness and disrupts old neurological pathways.  And as a student recently shared with me, “If you can’t get out, get in,” that’s when the magic begins to happen.