"I Don't Know" Isn't a Dirty Word

Written by Jenny Blake Okay, so "I don't know" is more of a three-word phrase, but you get the idea. When pondering a life change, a relationship or a career, how many times have you said, "I don't know" with a big sigh and a dejected, deflated tone?

"I don't know" is not a disease to be cured. It is not a flaw or a shortcoming, or a circuit of your brain that needs fixing. Nor is it problem until you make it one; until you use it an excuse to shortchange curiosity and exploration around whatever subject you are stuck on.

When talking with friends, I am guilty of sandwiching my "I don't know" response between shame and frustration. Shouldn't I know whether this decision or direction is THE RIGHT ONE or not?

Notice the all caps . . . we treat knowing as some holy grail, when in fact, "I don't know" is a doorway to freedom. It marks the start of a new adventure, a new path to be explored. I will repeat myself in saying: if we already knew, we would likely be bored.

Gordian Knot refers to a problem "solved only by bold action," and harkens back to the time of Alexander the Great. What if the next time you answered someone with, "I don't know," you said it with pride? Pride for the thorny new question you are groping your way through, something holy and worthy of your growth and evolution.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” 

—Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

"I don't know" requires humility, beginner's mind. It means admitting what you don't know. You can transform not knowing by seeing it as the opportunity that it is. Use it as a teacher to uncover new aspects about yourself, your values, and your desires, and ultimately, your ability to serve others in an even fuller way.

Sometimes the sediment that "I don't know" leaves behind as it flows in and out of our lives is compassion—for everyone else who is in transition, in-between or unsure about questions big and small.

The idea that you need to know—and right now at that—is constricting. It suffocates creativity.

I don't know is a gift. Treat it with reverence. Shine the light of acceptance, attention and inquiry, and watch it transform in its own time.

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career StrategistJenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book The Pivot MethodShe is a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its 8th year!) and at JennyBlake.me, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.