Why it's amazing to not know

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Throughout the course of my career, corporate and otherwise, there have been many, many things I didn't understand, didn't know how to do, or didn't know the answer to. When I was younger, I thought this was a big problem.

I would quietly try to figure things out without asking anyone to help me or explain things. I would assume that I should already know the answer, and that if I didn't, that was bad. I thought, like many people, that admitting I didn't know things would make me look weak or unqualified or maybe even dumb. Basically, I was worried about how others might perceive me. 

But here's what I've learned: I had it completely backwards. Not knowing is actually an amazing thing. But before it can be amazing, you have to first let go of caring what other people will think of you. 

Why is this piece essential? Because as long as you care what others will think of you, you will try to act in ways that you anticipate will impress them. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it has a troublesome assumption built into it. This way of thinking assumes that the pretense of knowing is better than showing up as you are and adding value anyways. And that, my friends, is some bullshit. When we admit we don't know, magical things happen. 

We often immediately learn that some of the other people present also do not understand. We are able to gain clarity, which means that whatever we're bringing to the conversation will be well-informed. We practice courage and learn that the world won't implode just because we have a question about the topic at hand. And most importantly, we set the example that not knowing is ok, and can actually be beneficial. 

The more that people can admit that they don't know everything, the more people can actually do effective work. Risking the discomfort of asking a question in a meeting can save hours of your workday that you would've spent googling and trying to understand your findings. 

And that's just the beginning. Here's the real beauty of not knowing: when you don't know, and you can admit that you don't know, you bring something very special to the table. You bring fresh perspective. That means you can probably see things that others can't. They are living inside all their thoughts and stories, but you have the ability to see things in a new light. But. You only have that opportunity if you feel safe enough to admit you don't know. Otherwise, you probably won't even offer your opinion, because you're too afraid that it will reveal your lack of understanding. 

This is how perfectionism backfires. We think, ok, I just need to be a little bit better, a little smarter, a little more informed, and then I can show up and kick ass. But our brain always moves the goal post. There's always something we don't know. Literally, you can't know everything. There's just too much information in our current world for that. But, that's not a problem unless you make it one. It doesn't mean anything bad about you or the world or the way we work. Unless you think it does.

Because if you believe it means something about you, then that thought will control your behavior, and it'll keep you from showing up, offering value, and kicking ass today. And today is the only day we can kick ass, y'all. Because tomorrow never comes. All-knowing perfection never arrives. And it doesn't need to. Whatever knowing you have, right now, is enough. It always has been.