The art of ‘I don’t know’

“It is a sign of strength, not of weakness, to admit that you don’t know all the answers.”
— John Lougbrane

I hope that in this very, very last stretch of 2018, you’ve been kicking your feet up a little more and finding time to b-r-e-a-t-h-e. I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the joy ‘n’ buzz of the holidays, I also really love the fixings of my introvert cocoon: fluffy socks, soft robe, fluffy blanket + all things quiet.

In my tiny pockets of post-holiday stillness, I’ve had some game-changing reflections that I MUST share with you. And they’re all tied to these three words: I don’t know. Or is it technically four words? Heck! I don’t know!

Three more words: STAY. WITH. ME. 

Back in April, I was on a REV Talk panel on connection and community. At one point, I was asked a question that I had no idea how to answer. I don’t remember the question, but I clearly remember how I felt as everyone stared at me. My insides panicked, and I quickly said: 

“Ya know, I don’t know. I’d need some time to think on that.”

When I came home that night, I told David I needed to practice answering questions on the spot or something, because THAT was embarrassing!

Well, a few weeks later, while connecting with one of the attendees over a call, he said, “You were great on that panel! And you know what my favorite part was?”

“What??” I asked.

I loved how, at one point, you said you didn’t know an answer,” he said. “It’s very rare that someone straight up admits that on a panel, but it made you relatable and human. Your vulnerability was refreshing, because so often we think we have to know everything.”

I sat in total shock and awe. The man had a POINT! And if you think about it…

In the vulnerable, uncertain space of ‘I don’t know’ is actually where all the best things begin.Without it, there’d be no risk-taking, innovation or growth.

This reminds of another panel I was on in October.

It was for the CU Alumni Association and the topic was “How to Be Your Own Boss.”

As I was looking over the questions a few days before the event, I wasn’t sure how I’d answer a few of them, including this one:

What do you wish you knew before becoming an entrepreneur?

Curious how my entrepreneurial pals would respond, I asked around and was quickly intrigued by their responses:

  • “I wish I would’ve been better with saving money before I started. But who knows if I would’ve worked as hard and had as much pride in what I built and landed the kinds of clients I did?”
  • “I wish I would’ve known that I would wander around my house not knowing what I was supposed to be doing each day. I felt like such a loser. But now I know that it was a normal part of the process.”
  • “I wish I would’ve known all the different hats I’d be wearing. You go into biz because you love something so much, and then your time is consumed by things you have no training in and you feel you must be an expert at them. There’s a lot of trial and error and realizing you need a great support system.”

Some of the things I wish I’d known? That my offerings and focuses would often change. That it’s actually totally okay to be multi-passionate. That growing a business takes tiiime, persistence and equal amounts of grace and bravery.

Here’s the thing, though — and it’s the thing I noticed in all the responses:

If we’d all known these things in advance, would we appreciate them nearly as much now?

No.

Would the ride have been as interesting or gratifying if we knew ev.er.y.thing from the start?

No.

Think of it this way:

Why do you think my husband refuses to look at his phone until his recorded CU game is over?

Why do you think we say, “Don’t tell me how it ends!” when someone brings up a movie?

Because if we knew ALL the things in life, what would be the point? 

We’d never know what anticipation tastes like or the thrill of life’s mysteries. We’d never experience the great, painful pleasure of grrrowing.

Now, even though I’ve had all these eye-openers around the beauty of not knowing, I’m certainly not free from the uneasiness it can bring — especially when it comes to trying new things in life and work. I feel like I need constant reminders that it’s okay to be a work in progress.

One recent reminder profoundly changed my perspective and lifted me out of a doubt-ridden rut. And something’s telling me to share it with you for those times that you, too, feel not qualified or lacking in some way.

As I apply to be a speaker for a network of CEO peer groups (with a 3-hour, very interactive Break Changer workshop), guess what my No. 1 fear has been?

Not knowing all the answers when executives ask me questions.

(Notice a pattern yet?)

But during coffee with the awesome couple who’s been mentoring me through the process, one of them asked, “So, what’s giving you the most heartburn and worry, Brit?”

“I’m afraid of being challenged by seasoned CEOs of big companies,” I said. “I’m afraid that they won’t see me as a true expert if I don’t know how to answer some of their questions.”

Then, his reply changed it ALL for me:

“You ARE the expert by saying I don’t know.” 

He assured me that…

…no one is really a full expert in anything.
…to admit what we don’t know is one of the most human things we can do.
…we’re all just doing the best we can and figuring it out as we go.
…if someone asks a question I don’t know the answer to, it’s an opportunity to start an interesting conversation or inform the group on that topic later.

I sat back in my chair totally floored…mind-blown…and having flashbacks to those stories I just told you above.

Sometimes, the only thing standing in our way is ourselves.

As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius puts it:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

All the things we wish we’d known before starting a biz / giving that speech / getting married / moving to that city / raising kids / opening up the Q&A / trying that sport / quitting the job / going on that date are things we were never supposed to know. 

Because they’re the things that have grown us and molded us the most. They’re the things that have stuck with us…for a reason.

So, as we go into 2019, I hope this gets you thinking.

I hope it…

…helps you feel a little more brave and capable.
…opens your heart to possibility and the enormous beauty in uncertainty.
…loosens your grip on how things should look or who you should be.
…inspires you to revel in the marvelous mysteries that lie ahead.

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