I (Don’t) Know

September 29th, 2015 by Kelly Kienzle

stacked rocks

We always want to know things. We yearn for certainty and assurance. But why? We want to know what will happen, who will say what and how the work will go.

We assume that we will be happier and more secure if we can forecast what will happen, even if (and sometimes especially if) we’re forecasting doom. So we create assertions such as, “I know what will happen next” or “I know what she’ll say.” And sometimes we even throw in a fistful of omniscience: “I know why he did that” or “I know what to do.”

Yet where does this certainty lead us when we forecast negative outcomes? It leads us nowhere. We have predicted doom and that is likely what will happen when we approach the work with a negative mindset.

The irony is that we may subtly be sabotaging ourselves because we don’t want to be wrong! If the project actually succeeds, then we’ll be proven incorrect. So instead we may quietly hope that it fails, because then at least we will be proven right.

It takes far more courage for me to admit that I don’t know something. Yet when I do, then I am exposing a vulnerability which shows the other person that I trust them. When I say that I don’t know the outcome, then that opens more possibilities for how the work will actually unfold.  And finally, admitting that I don’t know the answer allows the other person to step up and provide some suggestions, thus empowering and engaging them in our work.

So, I have taken up a challenge to myself to admit ignorance more often. I don’t know if the project will succeed. I don’t know if the person will agree. I don’t know if my children will remember to keep their electronic devices out of the bathroom. (OK, I might know a little more about that one.) But if I give up hope, then what am I left with? Just the possibility of a negative outcome and a lonely, little victory party when I prove myself right.

Instead, I’ll admit to not knowing because then I just might learn something new each day.


I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
– Emily Dickinson

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