I don’t know. Have you ever noticed how often we use that phrase? When we think about verbal pauses, many of us immediately think of “um” and “uh” but we often forget about this funny little string of words that we throw around to fill awkward silences or to deflect our discomfort. In honor of the close of the ultimate year of uncertainty (2020, for those of you not following along), today I want to consider how these three little words, when used unconsciously in this manner, can rob you of your credibility and make you a liar.
When you ask a child what they want to do when they grow up, they will quickly offer all sorts of fantastical imaginings. Flying to the moon, raising a gaggle of unicorns, and becoming a fairy princess seem to be fairly obvious responses (both then and now — who doesn’t want to fly to the moon on a unicorn dressed as a princess?).
What is most interesting about fantastic childhood plans is not the plans themselves but a child’s commitment to making them happen.
Have you ever asked a child where they plan to find a unicorn, let alone an entire gaggle of unicorns, or how they plan to fulfill their lifelong dream of raising unicorns in every color of the rainbow? Such a question may be met with a variety of unique and interesting answers but, amongst those answers, you will not hear a child respond: I don’t know.
Kids don’t care about the how. That is an adult problem that we have gifted to ourselves.
Kids don’t care about how they are going to accomplish their dreams. They simply commit. When pushed, they brainstorm all sorts of ideas as to how they might accomplish this goal. Their little eyes squint with focused effort and their little brains hum away offering all sorts of solutions to the problem. They get to work solution-ing the problem, without hesitation or doubt.
The beautiful thing about watching a child do this is that it is a living reminder that we too are wired in this way. We too have the ability to solution all of our problems. The trick is that we must stop investing in the phrase “I don’t know.” Those three little words slam the door – no eye squinting with thought-exertion, no brain humming away to work. Just pure silence. Dream foreclosure!
Using those three little words suggests that we must know how something is to be accomplished before we can get to work doing it. In what realm does that make any sense? Why does it matter that you don’t know how to accomplish something?
Isn’t it simply enough to want it and chart your course from there?
(Get support charting your course by taking advantage of limited free coaching sessions that I offer every week.)
Our world is not filled with problems that have secret, solitary solutions that must be discovered. Our world demands that we must get to acting and crafting potential solutions before we know what will work. We must acknowledge that we don’t know the how and get to work sorting that out.
Not knowing “how” is not a stop sign, it’s the starting line.
We know this intellectually but yet our brains freak out whenever we are tasked with something significant that we have never done before. That freak out sounds like this:
I don’t know.
You DO know. You may not know the exact right solution but without a doubt you can brainstorm your first step. If you force yourself to imagine what you would do if you DID know, you will develop a first step. You will start learning what might work and what won’t work. In contrast, if you resign to a world of I don’t know, you will most certainly continue to not know because those words never spurred anyone to action.
In a world of balance — yin and yang, up and down, good and evil — everything has its opposite. Everything has its counterpoint. Wouldn’t it then follow that where you are “not knowing” there also exists in you the corresponding “knowing”?
When you use IDK as a means to fill the space and avoid taking action, you discredit yourself and your resiliency. You communicate to yourself and those around you that you don’t have the ability to brainstorm like a 6-year-old child. Furthermore, you communicate to those around you that it matters that you don’t know the precise solution to the challenge at hand. It doesn’t matter! The only thing that matters is your investment in acting to discover a solution.
Lean into solution-ing like a child and give yourself space to be the problem solver that you are. No one is hiring you because they want you to know everything. People hire you because they trust you to craft a solution, no matter what it takes. That leaves very little room for “I don’t know.”
In sum, stop staying I don’t know and give yourself space to offer what you DO know. That is so much more truthful than “I don’t know.”