You Don’t Have To Know

Making friends with uncertainty is hard, but it’s what we are made for

A creative entrepreneur with a big heart tells me he doesn’t like not knowing. I can see the discomfort in his face, and I get it. When partners are asking for earning forecasts, when you’re in a new area of learning and would like to provide a solid answer that you just can’t give, it can be unsettling not to know. WTF have I gotten myself into, have I done the right thing am I crazy no but yes oh god this feels weird.

The act of creation — whether it’s a painting, a piece of writing, a business, a travel plan, a relationship, a life — involves a lot of uncertainty and faith.

And yet, what I may call uncertainty and a not-knowing, might be someone else’s joyride. From not knowing, we move into seeing something for ourselves.

Every creation has started with an idea that changes along the way.

Imagine this: we NEVER know anyway. There’s an experience of what’s happening in the moment, but most of what we “know“ is made up based on what we’re certain of or confident of happening.

Ask me what I’m doing tomorrow and I’ll tell you I’m swimming at 7:30 am with a couple of friends and I’ll be wearing my new Mango Jolyn swimsuit. I “know” this because I’ve planned this. However, until I’m in the pool and actually swimming tomorrow morning, my “knowing” of this is really a date put onto a calendar — but I don’t know if it will happen. I just think it will.

Everything that is not now is imagination. Categorically.

Clare Dimond

If I start a business and I don’t quite see the lay of the land profit-wise, business plan or not, it doesn’t have to mean anything other than: the lack of vision (“knowing”) creates discomfort because my system craves knowing. (In this case, I might come up with a plan or set some goals or listen for what makes sense in order to move forward with more calm and clarity.)

I used to not like knowing an answer to a question. Ask me about what I’m doing, why, when I think I might finish a project, what I think about a news headline, or how a coworker is performing a job, and I’d give you an answer because knowing was a form of protection.

I did this with my parents, I did this with friends, with colleagues. Knowing was my armor. Which I didn’t need. I thought I did, though. My conditioning was such that I felt on the defensive a lot, and pontificating a position that appeared like I knew something (or was smart) was a way to secure my position with others and to also have them retreat. (Despite the fact many might have considered me a blow-hard.)

What do I really know? Let’s start with right here: the man next to me in bed with his hand on my leg and already asleep as I write this is my husband. Will that still be the case tomorrow? I will go to sleep assured of the fact but — tomorrow doesn’t exist. So I don’t really know.

I had an amazing writing teacher in grad school. The mark he left went beyond writing. When I was frustrated I’d ask him questions, with a flicker of desperation as if the answer would deliver me . . . something or somewhere: “Do you think the relationship between the mother and daughter is strong enough?” “How do you know when the conflict is driving the plot in the right way?” “What do writers need to know to keep going?” “What should I do with . . . my LIFE?”

One day we were in an elevator and I asked one of those needy questions. He looked at me and looked at me and said deliberately, kindly, slowly: “I don’t know.”

What? I took out a grad school loan for “I don’t know”?

It was an answer that dropping in and has stayed with me. I think back to it. I use it. It taught me some important lessons:

  • There is no Right Answer, and whatever it is, it’s up to me to discover it for myself.
  • As a teacher, mentor, boss, colleague, coach, friend, family member, Not Knowing is not only OK, but answering a question with “I don’t know” can really serve the recipient.
  • It’s OK not to know. It’s natural not to know!
  • Not knowing can be an opportunity — to discover, to connect, to inquire further.
  • To say you don’t know about something; to take yourself off the hook from having an opinion on a topic is freeing. It opens the mind to learn, to inquire, to see more, to keep building bridges with others, rather than getting consumed and defensive defining your position.

So go ahead, own your “not knowing.” Take a breath, let yourself off the hook, settle into your natural open, curious state.

About Our Guest Author

Tatyana Sussex is writer, everyday athlete, learner, late bloomer, and a retired party girl who coaches writers, professionals & re-inventors. Her vision is a world filled with happy people, being their genius selves, making an impact, and contributing to a happier and more peaceful world.

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