When I was younger, I thought if I was asked a question, I should have an answer. That’s how it worked in school. The teacher asked us questions and it was our job as students to respond. But these days in real life, I often don’t have the answers to questions. Lately, I’ve been using the answer, “I don’t know,” with increasing frequency. It’s a good answer, because much of the time, I really don’t know.
I’m not sure I used this response very often when I was younger. If asked, I thought I should know. In fact, I thought I did know and if I didn’t, I would speculate. But even if I had an answer, of course, I didn’t always know. None of us do.
Last weekend, somebody asked me if the hardest part of a project was behind me. “I don’t know,” was my answer. My husband asked me how I was going to accomplish another goal. At this point, not sure. A friend asked me how someone we both knew was doing. I couldn’t guess and didn’t want to make something up. Instead, “I don’t know.”
What am I going to do with my free time this weekend? That’s a few days away. “I don’t know.” My next blog topic? Not sure. When we move into our new condo, will we miss our home? Probably, but we’ll see. What will we do on an upcoming vacation? I’m not sure. In fact, where are we going on our next vacation? I know where our plane lands, but after that, I don’t really know.
Not Knowing Can Feel Good
If I’m rested, I enjoy not knowing. Sometimes it means that more needs to unfold. I may have not yet focused on something enough to have an answer because I’m focused on the present. I’m a world-class planner with a major dose of conscientiousness. But still, there’s a lot I don’t know.
If I’m tired, not knowing can feel scary and overwhelming. (Another reason to go to bed early.) As I approach my bedtime, I start to want to fit the future into my tight little fist. I want to know.
I worry that the response, “I don’t know,” is sometimes lazy, a way for me to escape thinking something through. I may have a hunch about something, but it would take some mental work to process and explain it. I never want to use this answer as a way to escape mental effort.
But often, I really just don’t know. Despite our best efforts and predictions, we don’t know what is going to happen in the future, even in the next minute. Our health might be good now and that could change in a flash.
Of course, we need to plan and think things through. We need to try to know in certain arenas. But often it’s okay to just not know and admit it.
The older I get, the less I seem to know. Paradoxically, knowing less might be a sign that I actually know more. It’s freeing.
So the next time you’re unsure, go ahead and say it. “I don’t know.” It might be one of your most honest answers yet!