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Why one Latter-day Saint psychologist says uncertainty is an opportunity

by | Jun. 24, 2021

Wendy Ulrich wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life until she read a single question in a book one day: What would you do if you were guaranteed success? And in that moment, she knew she wanted to be a psychologist. “I care enough about this that I’m afraid to fail at it,” she remembers thinking. “I’m afraid I’ll be bad at it . . . I don’t care as much about this other field that I’m considering, so it doesn’t feel as risky somehow to my whole identity as a human being.” She wasn’t guaranteed success, but she knew psychology is what she would pursue if she wasn’t afraid to fail. So despite the fear and the uncertainty, she went for it.  

On a recent episode of the Latter-day Saint Women podcast, Ulrich shared her perspective of how uncertainty is an opportunity, rather than something to be feared with hosts Karlie Guymon and Shayln Back. As she points out, after over a year of uncertainty, we all can see blessings.  

Read part of the transcript from the episode below. Note: This excerpt has been edited for clarity. 

Karlie Guymon (host): So we talked, Wendy, before the interview, that you have authored books on various subjects in the Church [about] women and the priesthood, women and the temple, [and] obviously you have your mental health expertise. And so we thought a lot about what we could talk about with you today. But as we prepared for the interview and asked you what was on your mind, we ended up landing on this topic of how difficult uncertainty can be and how taxing that can be. And that's something that we have all experienced a lot of in the last year.  

Wendy Ulrich: It’s been one of those years, hasn't it? Lots of uncertainty.  

KG: So whether it's feeling uncertain about what happens next and how bad is it [going to] be, and what am I [going to] have to deal with next—and even when it's not a global pandemic, everyday uncertainty is something that we all face. So we wanted to talk with you, based on your perspective and expertise, What are principles, what are things that we can use and rely on to deal with this uncertainty? That [it’s] just a part of life?  

WU: It is just a part of life, isn't it? And we've had it in spades in the last little while here, but yeah, it is a part of all of our lives at one level or another. And it's kind of been frustrating for a lot of us to feel like, ‘I just feel like I'm grumpy all the time,’ or ‘I'm just depressed,’ or ‘I'm just anxious all the time,’ or ‘I just feel like I'm on edge.’ And I think we all deserve a little compassion for ourselves and for each other in that because the brain actually interprets uncertainty for the most part as a threat, so it's kind of this background program running in our brains all the time that— 

KG: Is heightened, like stress.  

WU: This heightened sort of sense of, ‘Okay, be on guard, be alert, be paying attention,’ because you don't know what's going on here. This is not familiar territory. So you need to be paying attention in a way that you don't normally go around paying attention, you know? And so it just kind of is draining for a lot of us.  

But there are some things that we can do to help with that uncertainty, and I think one of the first ones, for me, has been to realize that uncertainty is not just the negative, it's not just a threat, it is also an opportunity. That means we're going to learn something, there's an opportunity to do something different, there's an opportunity to try something new. There's an opportunity to recognize a problem I didn't even know I had and find some new solutions, and I'm [going to] grow in that process. And I think we can look back, most of us, and see some learning, some growth that has come out of that year that we've been through. . . .  

So there are opportunities in the uncertainty. If we can calm ourselves down enough, and that's the trick is, How do you give up needing to be in control? Which is how we manage our anxiety enough to say, ‘Okay, I'm not [going to] be in control of all this. I don't even know what the right answer is here, let alone how to get to it.’ But that feeling of control about where does the safety lie is insidious, because we want to go to the things that we feel safe with, that make us feel in control. And I think what we're having to learn [i]s the Lord is in control, and that's where my safety lies. So, ‘Can I increase my faith and trust in Him so that I'm not feeling like it's all up to me?’ Yes. I'm [going to] have to do some things too. I'm [going to] have to grow, I'm [going to] have to learn, I'm [going to] have to change, I'm [going to] have to experiment, I'm [going to] have to take some risks and they will not all work well. I will fail at some things in the process, and that's okay. That's not a tragedy. That's just life. And that's how we grow.  

Listen to the full Latter-day Saint Women podcast here

Lead Image: YouTube screenshot 

Image titleBest-selling author and acclaimed psychologist Wendy Ulrich explains how, following the Savior's examples, women can act within priesthood authority and covenants to fulfill their individual missions, help save the human family, and empower rising generations. By qualifying for the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the temple endowment, women can nourish, teach, serve, pray, lead, heal, parent, prophesy, minister, and testify with priesthood power. Find Live Up to Our Privileges at DeseretBook.com.

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