Updated: Aug 19
At some point in the evolution of human society we became quite sure-istic, always having an answer even when it is not the right one. Always finding an answer even when we are totally out of our league.
“Sure” I’ll find an answer for you, someone can figure it out.
I mean hey, a can do attitude is great, because well, science. We need the ”sure”s to move forward as a species, because again science; without finding answers, solving problems, we get nowhere.
But these next few lines are not about the sures, they are about the UNsures!
What does a human society look like that is ok with unsure?
One that accepts the “I don’t know”s and explores why that is the answer?
It looks more self-reflective, empathetic, and humble. It looks that way because that is exaclty what admitting and accepting “I don’t know” forces us to do: self-reflect, empathize, and humble our understanding.
You're lucky if you grew up in an environment that adhered to the misunderstandings that come with human development. Most of us however, encounter another human at some point who make sure to inform us that it is not ok to just not know. This happens all throughout our lives and takes many forms. From parents, to friends, to teachers, to bosses, to children, to enemies, to strangers even, and soon we adopt the mindset ourselves: if you don’t know how to do something, you better figure it out, find someone that can, or pretend.
But what if we just sink?
Accept I don't know as an answer and move in another direction...
Maybe sometimes we need to sink and swim around the bottom for a moment, come back up when we are ready, come back up to a totally different part of the pond, one we fit in with much better.
Accepting ’I don’t know’ means accepting the change that comes with it.
When I first moved to Los Angeles from Tucson, I thought I understood what it meant to be entering into a much bigger 'pond' and quickly adopted the “fake it till you make it” attitude. I believed it so hard for a moment that I distinctly remember drunkingly preaching it to people at parties. Had only the mid-twenty something me seen that what really gets you moving in the right direction is nearly the complete opposite and slightly more long-winded: the, “just say you don’t know, because that is an acceptable answer” attitude.
The possibilities of where this kind of attitude might take you are endless. But here are a few that stand out to me:
If you’re employed and start accepting “I don't know” as a response, your work situation is either going to get better or end. There’s no staggering in a herd for 10-25 years before finally figuring out you are happy…or not happy.
Less mental pressure on yourself = less stress on your body = better everything. Saying I don’t know forces you to explore why and accepting it means your going to steer differently or work harder to figure it out. It allows you to make decisions, move forward, and for any mental discomfort to subside.
You will come to understand what the unknown means and learn how different minds, different people, have parts to play in many happenings at different moments in time. “I don’t know” pushes us quicker towards our starring parts.
The unknown is different for everyone. To find what parts of your life deserve more “I don’t knows”, start with the parts that continuously feel like a mental struggle.
Accepting unsure-ity means becoming aware of paths that are open to you that you do not need to take right now, or maybe you do not need to take them ever.
Go even further, spread the attitude:
The educational world is a perfect place for this mindset to grow.
Not just grade school and college, but any kind of education. Showing a coworker how to use the printer, explaining to your family what NFTs are, teaching a friend how to golf, education comes in many forms and learning to accept and say “I don't know” allows us to become the type of educators that are innately within us.
Of course, not every environment should function with attitudes of uncertainty. When learning to be a surgeon for example, or training to go to the International Space Station, these are not ideal situations to function in “I don't know” mindsets.
But even then, admitting unsure-ity to your peers, colleagues, and mentors means you will become a better surgeon, a better astronaut, a better anything… or you’ll go in an entirely different direction.
A way to break through the arches onto new paths towards growth and forward thinking is to embrace the world of unsure.
Give I don‘t know a try, and when you get comfortable with it, accept it, learn from it, and teach it to others.