Ever since I saw the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, the significance of February 2nd has changed for me. While most of the world still looks to Groundhog Day as a harbinger of whether winter will be long or short, I look at it as an annual reminder of the value of a little uncertainty in life.
Groundhog Day, for anyone who didn’t see the movie, tells the story of a man (Phil) who finds himself repeating the same day of his life, over and over and over again. The same things happen at the same time, with the same people, to the point where he knows exactly who he’s going to run into, and when, and what they’re going to say before they say it. The awful monotony and predictability of that kind of existence, where nothing is unknown or uncertain, and therefore nothing surprising can ever happen, is so unbearable to Phil that he finally tries to kill himself. (Even that doesn’t work. He still wakes up the next morning, condemned to repeat the day over again.)
Eventually (spoiler alert –if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, skip this paragraph), Phil finds a way to break the pre-programmed course of events by altering his own behavior within that day … which slowly changes the responses of those he meets and, finally, the outcome of the day.
There are all kinds of lessons and intended parallels in that story line … including the fact that, in the end, all we really can change or control in the world is our own behavior and response to the people, events and circumstances around us.
But for me, the story is also a cautionary tale to be very careful what we wish for–even when we’re wishing for predictability or security in our lives. Ideally, of course, we’d like a life with just enough uncertainty to make it interesting, but enough security that (as in a standard Hollywood movie where we know they’re not going to kill off the hero) we don’t have to worry overmuch about how badly things might turn out. But life isn’t perfect. Whether it’s in a job, a spouse, a place to live, or even in the amount of uncertainty we have in our lives, we don’t always get the ideal mix and ratio of ingredients.
When we’re in the midst of upheaval, it’s easy to wish away all that uncertainty. And … to be clear … there are times when life careens into bona fide nightmare levels of uncertainty (war, natural disaster, personal tragedy), where our focus, quite rightly, becomes getting a little more certainty and security into the mix. But Groundhog Day is a reminder to me that uncertainty is not all bad … and we can benefit from embracing it, or at least coming to some kind of peace with it.
In fact, I’m getting ready to release a new edition of Surviving Uncertainty: Taking a Hero’s Journey, which is the e-book I opened this site with, three years ago (yes, it’s been that long!). It offers some advice, and hopefully some inspiration and perspective, on not only how to survive uncertain stretches of life, but how to actually thrive in them. In addition to some new material in the book, I’m working on making it available in several different versions, including ones for Kindle and iPad, as well as–finally–a print version!
Stay tuned for more information on that, coming up soon. In the meantime, have a Happy Groundhog Day–and remember that without uncertainty in life, there’d be very little reason to go through the effort of living it.