The liberating effects of saying "I don't know"

School requires you to learn about things after the answer has already been decided. Life requires you to learn about things while the answer is in the process of being decided. - James Clear in 3-2-1 Newsletter.

Modern education focusses heavily on knowing correct answers. Wrong answers often result in penalties and embarrassing situations. There is a fear of making a wrong choice. No wonder that choosing a career is often seen as a do or die situation. There is enormous pressure to choose a right field, right college, right city the first time. This pressure is further increased by how confident people around you seem about their choices. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are the only one who is confused. We seldom realize that every choice has a fair share of unknown. Industries can change, sectors can change, jobs can change, and of course, there could be a pandemic. Reality can change fast, and it does NOT care about the choice we make.

Unknown makes us nervous and we try our best to avoid it. We never learn to accept the unknown, to feel comfortable with it. We never realize that unknown can often be filled with wonders, surprises, and delight.

To say “I don’t know” is the first step to accept the unknown. It is a humble acceptance about the limits of our knowledge. It is a first step to befriend reality. “I don’t know” is an attitude that will keep you in the learning mode. “Knowing” marks the end of curiosity. “I dent know” signals latent curiosity.

When faced with uncertainty, say “I don’t know” often to yourself. You will be surprised how light-hearted you feel. At any age, in any profession, in any discussion, “I don’t know” can open doors to new knowledge, friendships, and fresh perspectives.


Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are walking on a path in darkness while holding a torch. The darkness represents the unknown. You can only see with clarity as far as the torch light goes. You have a choice to just keep standing there trying to answer all the million questions about the darkness ahead. You can feel nervous, irritated, and angry. You can read about the darkness ahead, talk to people ahead of you on the path, or stand there paralyzed by your uncertainty. OR you can gather courage and say - I don’t know what lies ahead and walk a few steps, guided by the torch light. If you encounter a hole you can avoid it and if you encounter a peach tree, you can enjoy the fruit.

While thinking of creating this newsletter, I was bogged down by numerous questions about it – will people sign up for it? What should I write in it? I had the torch light of knowing the topics I liked to write about and knowing a software where I can write for free. Here I am creating my first real post for a small audience of 20 people. If this is the right path, I can only know by walking.

Life is exactly like this. I can never know all the answers. I can only take a few steps based on the little bit I know. Yes, you know what you like and what you dislike. You know a few things you are good at and few ways in which you can help people. The thrill is about not knowing all the answers and still walking the path. ONLY time can reveal all the answers. To know those, you will have to take the first step.

Now it is time for you to act. Pick one thing that you have always wanted to do and never started. Take a small step. If you encounter a failure change course and try again. The new discoveries and learning will refresh you. I would love to hear about your discoveries.