Jordan Gross’s fable speaks to all dimensions of uncertainty and fear of the unknown
I was a little sceptical when I opened the advanced review copy of Jordan Gross’s new book, What Happens in Tomorrow World? because although it sounded super intriguing, I didn’t think it was for me. As I went into it, though, my hesitance slowly melted away with every page, as I got absorbed into the simple yet extremely wise story of the toys in Tomorrow World.
The story goes like this: Pessi, Opti, Sage, and Chill are four very different toys living in the What’s Next?! giant crane game in the fictional arcade called Tomorrow World. Throughout the short book, the four toys discuss in anticipation what might happen with each child that tries their luck at the game. Much like their names suggest, Pessi (from pessimistic), Opti (from optimistic), Sage (as in wise), and Chill (as in cool, indifferent) are the metaphors of four different temperaments. Their conversations, in their wonderful simplicity, bring to life four attitudes we usually display in times of uncertainty.
When faced with the unknown at every step, we can either be blindly positive, failing to see the downsides of our impending decisions or unreasonably negative, panicking under any circumstance. We can also be composed and analytical, with a balanced overview of each possibility, or we can be totally indifferent and take each situation as it is. What Happens in Tomorrow World? is an easy-to-navigate account of how each type of personality responds to uncertainty and the good and bad in each approach.
I’ve been stressing how light the book is, but that’s not a negative aspect at all. On the contrary, I usually appreciate when wisdom is drawn from or built on simplicity. I don’t think big words and twisted narratives are necessary to create a thought-provoking story that makes you reflect on your behaviour and choices. Quite the opposite, Jordan Gross’s charm lies in how accessible his writing is in a way that a 9-year-old and a 30-year-old can both find great value in his modern-day fable.
What About Being in Control?
Uncertainty is a major and scary part of life. If you’ve ever felt like spiraling out of control drives you crazy, then you’re definitely not alone. But the fact remains that life is full of decisions, and each decision brings certain outcomes we can rarely predict with precise accuracy. From merely choosing to have a croissant for breakfast to deciding to move to another country, each moment of our lives swings in anticipation of what effect our choices will have. And more often than not, that effect turns out to be unexpected.
This will forever be an unchanged aspect of life, but how we choose to treat and react to uncertainty is the one thing we have absolute control over. Most of the time, we won’t have 100% agency even over our own decisions, much less over their outcomes, but how we face the volatility of life is the only ball exclusively in our field. One quote that will always stay with me from What Happens in Tomorrow World? goes like this:
I may be all alone here now, but I mustn’t panic. Nobody ever looks back on a situation and thinks, ‘I really wish I would have panicked more!’ — Jordan Gross, What Happens in Tomorrow World?
The best part about this book is how it makes you go ‘huh’ when you least expect it. I am a very weird combination of Opti and Pessi. Indeed, lately, I’ve been much more like Pessi than Opti, but I’m usually known for my ability to brush off any stressful situation by focusing on the bright sides. When Opti said the quote above, it must have been one of the biggest ‘huh’ moments of my life. Because, although the quote itself kind of states the obvious, I’ve never, ever thought about it that way.
I panic a lot. Like, a lot. Especially in the face of uncertainty. Hell, I’ve been panicking in the past week more than humanly measurable. So when I realised I’ll never actually look back on a situation and wish I would have panicked more, it felt liberating. Like this was the reminder I’d needed all along and I’ll use it every time that cloudy bubble of panic rises in my throat and fogs my reason.
What Happens in Tomorrow World? was a wonderful surprise and made me re-think my coping strategies and attitudes to stress. The idea behind it is genius, and Jordan Gross deserves all the praise for it. Especially the past year has been the epitome of uncertainty and addressing this specific feeling that looms over us every day was a smart, wise, and crucial choice in the current context. It encourages self-reflection, conversations, it addresses all ages and circumstances, and the fact that the four protagonists are based on Jordan Gross’s grandparents makes it all the more heart-warming and worth a read. It was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday afternoon and I promise it will be the same for you if you try it.
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