“I don’t know.”
It seems like a simple enough statement- a declaration of our knowledge or lack thereof.
Such as “I don’t know how many penguins live in Antarctica.” No harm or foul with this usage.
But how about these examples from my life?
“I don’t know where to apply to speak next.” (Actually, I had a list of places to speak that my assistant had found for me. I was just frightened that they wouldn’t pick me.)
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” (Back in the day when I used to say this I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. I just didn’t think it was possible.)
Very often we use the words “I don’t know” when what we really mean is “I’m scared”.
“I don’t know” becomes this big catchall phrase. It can mean that there’s a genuine lack of knowledge about something. Or it can mean that we’re stalling because we have knowledge that we’re frightened to act on.
It’s important to distinguish between these two scenarios because the way to handle them is different.
Is there a certain area of your life where you’re feeling confused? A place where you might shake your head and sigh, “I don’t know,” in a defeated tone?
Maybe it’s your career or your relationship or your money or your friends or your health. Or it could be your lack of any one of these things.
Now take a guess at a possible solution to your dilemma.
Some of you may be thinking right now, ‘But I really don’t know.”
Take a guess. It doesn’t have to be right.
Write down your idea.
Sit with your idea for twenty seconds, and notice your reaction to it.
Now classify your reaction to your guess by picking one of the following two categories.
1) Neutral- you may notice that 20 seconds feels like a long time, but other than that your mind is pretty empty
2) Discomfort- you may be feeling anxious, fearful, or physically agitated
If your reaction to your guess was neutral then you’re experiencing simple, genuine lack of knowledge.
If your reaction to your guess was discomfort then the issue is not that you don’t know a solution. It’s that the solution is frightening to you in some way.
Here’s how to handle each scenario.
If you don’t know an answer, or you’re not sure if you’re answer is correct, do some research. Try out a few ideas until you’ve figured out what works.
If you’re frightened, connect to a motivating vision, something that means more to you than the momentary discomfort you may experience from doing the scary step in front of you. Break things down into small steps and take them one at a time.
The trouble with saying “I don’t know” when you’re actually scared is that it blocks you from accessing the knowledge that you need to move forward.
By noticing that you know what to do, but feel scared or intimidated by it you will be able to find your courage, find support, and find your way.
[…] When I work with clients, I always tell them that we will begin our work with a bit of introspection. Any career choice they make will be based on their preferences, dreams, strengths, interests, and values, so it makes sense to begin with an assessment of those areas. But I frame this initial work by explaining that we will get in, get the information we need, and then get out. Lingering too long in introspection leads to spinning in circles and getting stalled out by confusion. […]