The Best Way to
(Possibly) Be Wrong:
The Art of Prognostication
by Jennifer Paros
what you feel in your heart to be right . . .
-- Eleanor Roosevelt
Several years ago, a friend of mine had lost a substantial amount of
weight and a mutual friend asked if I thought she would be able to
keep it off. I said, “ Oh yeah – sure!”
I remembered this exchange recently and realized I’d been wrong.
That person had gone on to regain the weight. But although I was
clearly wrong, there wasn’t any other answer I would have
preferred giving, and certainly not the one that would have made me
right. I had been asked to give my prognosis, but a prognosis is
ultimately just a guess. So I guessed in favor of the best change.
Diagnosis is when we’re told What We Have, basically another
way of saying Where We Are Right Now. Prognosis is when we’re
told What Might Happen – basically another way of saying
Where We Might Go Next. People tend to be enamored with
prognosis; it grows from our discomfort with the unknown. But it’s
easy to see the weakness in prognosticating, for there are more
variations of possibilities than there are people on the planet. To
feel empowered, it’s necessary to get grounded in where we want
to go rather than fixated on an idea of where we could end up.
In the process of writing, some time is always spent aware of the
unknown - the as-of-yet un-figured-out content as well as the
unknowns of publication, sales, and reviews. But projections about
these unknowns can displace our energies and disconnect us from
creating what is meaningful to us now. In a sense, a
prognosis asks us to live backwards, with conjecture about
what might happen serving as a dysfunctional guide for the present
moment. But living forwards (or writing forwards) -
facing the unknown, not a projected outcome - is actually the
way new vision and possibilities come to us.
A projection is another type of prognosis. It has two
meanings: a forecast or estimate of what might happen, and
the presentation of an image on a surface.
There are surface ways of being right. These depend upon
subscribing more to popular perception of a situation, using
evidence of current conditions to imagine the future. This approach
means greater investment in perceived limitations than in
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012
Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is
limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already
know, and you’ll see the way . . .
In the book,
Kids Beyond Limits,
Anat Baniel, a
psychologist with a unique approach to working with special needs
children, tells of her work with Elizabeth, who was thirteen months
old when they first met. Elizabeth was diagnosed with Global Brain
Damage and had dramatic challenges. Baniel describes some of their
work together and how Elizabeth grew up to earn two master’s degrees
and to marry. In reflecting upon the seeming miraculous way
Elizabeth’s development unfolded, the author posits:
willingness to entertain the impossible becoming possible may very
well be where remarkable changes begin.”
Before Baniel’s work with Elizabeth, the doctors‘ prognoses were
distressing, with one suggesting she be institutionalized. To the
best of their ability, the medical community strove to see the
situation clearly, but what they saw was only the decision they had
already made about Elizabeth’s perceived deficits. They could only
see the projection of their own thinking. The doctors wished to
get the prognosis right but were subscribing to the conditions of
current surface reality. Baniel connected to the intelligent
presence in the baby beyond present moment limits, allowing
that to open her own mind and be her guide.
its best, prognosticating is an art. With awareness, one can
feel what is possible beyond perceived limitations,
regardless of the challenge being faced (physical,
emotional, creative), and know we can always grow, change and get
better. At its’ worst, it rivals fortune
telling with predictions tending to elicit fear – either of
achieving or not achieving a projected outcome, failing us as a true
We give ourselves prognoses often; we make decisions and projections
about our projects, our futures, and who we will be. Sometimes our
personal prognosis lacks hope as we strive to be realistic.
But it is in the highest service to us and others to risk being
wrong in the best way by seeing our creative power beyond the
limitations of our current conditions, living our lives, and writing
our stories forward toward the unknown –opening to new possibilities
and new thinking.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.
Please visit her website at