On the wall in the reception area of an optometrist's office I visited 20 years ago, I saw a poster that read, "Teenagers! Tired of being harassed by your stupid parents? Act Now! Move out. Get a job. Pay your own bills. DO IT WHILE YOU STILL KNOW EVERYTHING." Despite 10 more years of life and a graduate counseling degree, I thought about how much less I felt I knew than when I was that foolish teenager. An eye exam would add proof.
A week earlier, while driving on an expressway to an event with a friend I saw a sign for our exit. I switched on my turn signal and steered to the right lane to make our turn. My friend suddenly demanded to know what I was doing and exclaimed, "This isn't our exit!"
Because I was certain I had just seen our exit sign, I was annoyed at my friend for trying to tell me how to drive. So, I continued to take the exit and said, "I am going the right way!"
A few minutes later, we passed several more signs. Instead of pointing to our destination, each sign delivered compelling proof that I had taken the wrong exit. Soon, I admitted my mistake and turned around.
After reaching our destination and laughing about the incident, I wondered why I misread the sign, so I asked to try my friend's eyeglasses. The fit was not perfect but through those lenses the view I saw was more astonishing and crisper than I thought possible. Realizing I might be able to see better, I scheduled an eye exam.
If humans stopped to get a close look at every sign, we would not go very fast or get very far. Our minds presume a lot, which can be good because otherwise we might not have the confidence to do what needs to be done. While certainty can power us forward, it can also take us on detours.
How many mistakes do we make because we are certain, despite all the messages around us and all the people telling us where to go? Being told we are wrong about something will not be enough to make most of us to change. We want to know what change looks like before we decide. We want to know our options in order to help us decide if change is worth the effort.
Dr. Bill Hettler, a pioneer in the modern wellness field, says wellness is an "active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence."
On our travel through life when we misread the signs and find ourselves on the wrong exit, we can ignore the cautions of our fellow travelers and keep going like the teenager on the poster who knows everything. Certainty is an attitude that feels like momentum by blurring options in our view. A mentally healthy alternative is to find new ways to look at what we already believe we know and see.
Editor's note: Brian D. Rendel, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC, is a professional counselor at the Copper Country Mental Health Services Institute in Houghton.