I Don’t Know
How many times in your life have you said out loud, “I don’t know”?
What do you want? “I don’t know.”
What movie do you want to see tonight? “I don’t know.”
What’s next for you in your career path? “I don’t know.”
For many of us, we answer so quickly with “I don’t know.” It’s almost like a default setting inside of us – much like Times New Roman is a default font on your computer.
As a distinction, what I am not talking about are fact-oriented questions such as “what time did the mail arrive today?” If you truly didn’t know what time the mail was delivered, your answer would be “I don’t know.” And that’s a fact.
What I am talking about are the bigger questions of life. You know what I’m talking about: those curiosity, life-oriented questions. Things like, what do you want out of your life? What’s next for your career? Where would you like to be five years from now? With these types of questions, it’s easy to go to that default place of “I don’t know” either because we have never been asked these types of questions or perhaps we want to make sure we come up with the right answer before responding.
Now here’s the deal about “I don’t know.” If you keep saying, “I don’t know,” you’re going to get more of “I don’t know.”
But what if you don’t know? Should you just sit there and wait until you do know? No! If you don’t know something, start to make it up… simply give an answer. Notice that I said, “give an answer,” and not “give the right answer.”
Imagine your answers are like a game of basketball. You might throw out an answer that sounds and feels perfect, much like the “swish” shot of the basketball, going right into the basket without hitting the backboard or rim. Next, imagine throwing out another answer, this time it hits the backboard first and goes in at an angle. You made the basket, but not perfectly. And then imagine your next attempt, and you miss the basket and the backboard completely. Oh well, throw another shot and see what happens next!
My point here is pretty obvious – without attempting to throw out some answers, you won’t get anywhere! Most of us wait to know exactly how to get a “swish” shot before we even throw the ball. Our job, however, is to keep throwing the ball… keep throwing out answers. Think of the backboard as something to literally bounce your ideas off of – it will help you decide what you want or what is next for you.
At the start of my career, I was a participant in CTI’s Leadership Program. I remember sitting through many sessions not knowing what was going on a lot of the time. I just didn’t get what was happening. I felt lost, and whatever I was supposed to be learning, I wasn’t. I found myself constantly saying things like “I don’t know what we’re doing. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what I should be learning.”
After about the 22nd time of me making these announcements, Karen Kimsey-House, my program leader, said emphatically – “Okay Rick. Enough! I want you to actually start to know something. Maybe you don’t know what’s going on, or maybe you don’t know what you’re learning, but I want you to start saying out loud what you do know, rather than all that you don’t know. Please take yourself in the direction of what I know is…”
Well, I must tell you, that one moment changed me forever! That one little instruction sent me off into a new world… into a world of all that I did know. What a difference it made to say, “what I know is that I’m not sure of what I’m learning.”
I encourage you to start your sentences with “What I know is…” and see what wants to fall out of your mouth. When someone asks you a question, instead of defaulting to “I don’t know,” go in the direction of “what I know is…” and then complete the sentence. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you have the right answer or not! It might sound something like this: “What I know is that I don’t have the answer right now. What I know is it’s unfolding in front of me. What I know is there’s work for me to do here.”
Notice the power of the four little words “What I know is…” When you state what you know, movement starts to occur. This is such a simple, yet profoundly altering life skill to practice.
Keep a daily log of how many times you say the words I don’t know. I think you might be surprised! And be sure not to make yourself wrong in the process… just notice the default nature of it.
Then, start to use the phrase “What I know is…” If you don’t know how to complete the sentence, make something up. Have fun with this! Remember the basketball backboard… it’s there for you to bounce off of… use it to help determine if it’s the right direction for you or not.
Start knowing something… anything! Remember, life is all made up.
Let me know how it goes!
Anne de Solages
As I am reading your post, I remember this little internal voice saying “Other know more than you!” when I have to answer this questions “What do you think?” or “What do you want?”
So now I got it : When I say “I don’t know” I just repeat what my “saboteur” tries to make me think. Thank you.