UNCERTAINTY BY STEPHANIE DANAN EDITED BY AMANDA FORTINI October 13, 2022

Uncertainty, a state of being I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, feels disorienting, disquieting, even a little bit scary. But, as most of us have learned with experience, it’s obviously a part of life. Relationships come and go. Businesses thrive and fail. Loved ones enter our lives and sometimes depart as suddenly as they came.

I’ve always admired people who can face uncertainty head on and weather its storm. Those who can pause, surrender, and allow themselves to live in the unknown exhibit real clarity, courage, and grace.

Stephanie Danan

I am a true Aries. I charge right past uncertainty in the hope of controlling circumstances and creating a “certain” outcome. I build a script in my head of what I want and need, and I work very hard to execute it. This has helped me at times and hurt me at others.

In my first installment, I wrote about how CO was born of a very uncertain time in my life. In my mid-thirties, I found myself divorced, my career stagnant. Both realities felt very foreign to me. I always knew what I wanted in life—to go to college in the United States, to study film and become a producer, to spend my twenties living in New York and Paris—and I thought I could achieve it all through curiosity and hard work. Yet somehow the old ways no longer seemed to be working for me, and life decided to wake me up.

How would I make a living? Who would I share my life with? Would I ever be a mother? The big questions began to haunt me. I resisted facing the many unknowns in my life, until I realized that resistance was no longer an option—it was holding me back and creating unnecessary pain. As Pema Chödrön, the Tibetan Buddhist author and nun, whose books I often turn to when I need to ground myself, has written, “The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.” Afraid of not knowing what is next, we seek comfort in the idea of false permanence.

When I finally stopped resisting and decided to take a fearless leap into the future that was still a mystery to me, something magical happened: I met my partner Justin Kern, with whom I shared instant creative synergy, and our relationship led to the creation of CO and the birth of our child, Jacob. This was an extraordinary time for me. I was in love with the man I shared my life with, I felt so nourished by the energy of what we were trying to build together, and I was filled with the greatest joy of my life from the birth of our son. This created what appeared like a renewed sense of certainty in my life.

When things change, we often lose our footing, and forget that life is dynamic and always shifting, whether we are aware of it or not.

But one doesn’t get off so easily. It was only a matter of time before uncertainty showed its face again. On the eve of turning 50, I find myself on the cusp of so many changes. I am thinking about the place I want to live and grow old, the people I want share my life with, but mostly about ensuring I give my son as many amazing tools and resources as I was given by my own parents. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. “The truth is that we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process. We never fully arrive,” Pema Chödrön writes in Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn repeatedly. When things change, we often loose our footing, and forget that life is dynamic and always shifting, whether we are aware of it or not.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that all we can control is how we react to uncertainty. While I understand this intellectually, practicing it is an entirely different beast. Fear often clouds our judgement and muddles our decision-making, pulling us away from our true selves and causing us to make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our deepest desires. I have, of course, done this many times in my life, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s my life’s work to transcend these fears and commit to that practice with intention.

During such moments, I try to remember the times I surmounted my anxieties about uncertainty: when my parents lost all their money, and I didn’t know where we would end up; when my first film fell apart and I decided to move to Los Angeles; when my marriage didn’t turn out to be the fairy tale I’d envisioned; when I took the risk to create CO and left behind a 15-year film career that I loved. Those times of transition became, counterintuitively, some of the most creative and inspired of my life, because I felt very connected to my own inner dialogue. I remind myself of how freeing it can be to let go, how empowering it can be simply to accept life as it comes, and how this acceptance grants us the ability to shoulder the things we cannot control, whether illness, divorce, death, or even just all the little daily stressors we all encounter, with resilience and grace.

Certainty is like some pill that puts you to sleep, suffocating creativity and joy. Uncertainty steals your comfort, which can be unpleasant in the moment, but ultimately forces you to embrace change. Uncertainty is filled with so much potential, it’s at once terrifying and exhilarating. On the other side of navigating it, there is elation. You are free.

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WHEN I DESIGN the collections, I envision a woman with a true sense of self who has done the inner work that allows her to embrace whatever life brings her. For me, that often looks like spending time alone, exercising, reading, and taking long contemplative walks. I envision a woman who leads her life with the notion that she is whole and complete, independent of her community, work, success, partner, and even children. These aspects of her life might bring her happiness, but do not grant her a sense of certitude. Her sense of self is something deep and intrinsic, not dependent on who or what walks into her life, and who or what leaves it.

We recognize these women when we see them on the street, in offices, at protests, on the playground with their children. They exist everywhere and are growing in numbers. It is my observation that this woman dresses with great simplicity, elegance, and effortlessness. Her sartorial choices are always thoughtful and never trend-oriented; she never adorns herself with too many accessories. For her, it’s not about owning more clothing that will eventually get lost in the back of a wardrobe. Instead, she thoughtfully invests in pieces to wear again and again.

Her sense of self is something deep and intrinsic, not dependent on who or what walks into her life, and who or what leaves it.

I think of the women who I admire and exude this kind of confidence. I think, for example, of the artist Michele Oka Doner, whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my life. In her wardrobe hangs the same dress, made by the same designer, in a variety of colors and fabrics. She knows the silhouette that makes her feel strong and beautiful—a long, draped, caftan-like dress with a dolman sleeve. This dress, which is elegant yet also comfortable, shows that a uniform can be functional without being restrictive or boring; it’s like a superhero cape she puts on that allows her to accomplish all that she sets her mind to. She knows that in the morning she is not going to waste precious time thinking about clothing but instead about the art she will create and the people she will spend time with. As she has put it, “My physical presence I keep curated—always the same—and I just stay strong and healthy.”

Michele Oka Doner

I think, too, about my aunt Perla Servan Shreiber, a writer of philosophical essays and books as well as cookbooks, who only wears white. She is not dedicated to a silhouette but to a color. This is who she is. Recently I asked her, “Why did you choose white?” Her response was as simple and elegant as her wardrobe. “White chose me,” she said. And it dawned on me, in that moment, that she had probably spent a lot time thinking about and working on acceptance. That perhaps when you are receptive to and don’t resist uncertainty, things choose you: a child, love, a new city, a professional opportunity, and maybe even, in this case, a color.

Perla Servan Shreiber

I watch these women from afar as they age gracefully, having spent a lifetime investing in the self, which allows them to meet life’s uncertainties. When I think of them, I think of two women with an extraordinary amount of style, resilience, graciousness, and joy. They made a rewarding arrangement with the present moment: whatever happens, they meet it with style, and they see the beauty in life, in all its ups and downs. What both women are saying is focus on my message, on my essence, and not on what I’m wearing. It’s as though the certainty about their wardrobe makes the uncertainties of life much easier to weather. They can depend on a uniform and think about more important matters.

The truth is we own way too much. We often buy for reasons other than what fits and feels good. We adorn ourselves with logos to belong to the herd, or perhaps to please another person. We seek the false comfort of what I call “fashion certainty” every time we buy something new and trendy to fill the void within us, or to assuage our anxieties and insecurities. And then we end up wearing the ten things we know we love and that make us feel strong.

I say we edit fear of uncertainty out of our lives. Let’s start by cleaning up our closets, investing in what feels essential, and occasionally in pieces that will be passed down from generation to generation. Most of all, let’s invest in ourselves—at the end of the day our sense of self is all we can count on. Let’s nurture it, protect it, celebrate it. It is, after all, the chicest outfit of all.

—Stephanie