Honestly idk (and that's ok!)
One of the greatest skills a person can have is the ability to reply, “I don’t know,” when asked a question. It might seem like a phrase unattached to big, complicated emotions, but it can stir up insecurity in most people, myself included. How will others perceive us if we aren’t sure? What does it mean about us if we can’t produce an answer? Does not knowing mean we have less power, control, or intellect???
If any of those questions gave you anxiety, you probably should practice saying “I don’t know” more often.
Most of us judge ourselves more than we are judged by others. The personal standards we set are so high that it’s impossible for us to achieve most of them – and deep down, everyone knows that about themselves and each other. If you saw someone struggling, or unsure, or afraid, you’d likely not ridicule them for it. You’d probably want to help them out or teach them something they don’t already know. So why do we become defensive or fearful when faced with our own limitations?
I used to get so stressed out if I wasn’t sure about something when another person asked me about it. As a first-generation college graduate working in the medical field, there have been so many opportunities for imposter syndrome to set in. It can so quickly feel like a personal failing if you’re forced to face a gap in knowledge. Sometimes I would even go so far as to tell lies to cover up the fact that I have no idea what something is:
“Have you heard of this band?”
“Have you read this super old and problematic book written by a random rich man in 1800?”
“It’s a classic!”
“Do you know this obscure reference from an even more obscure show that only 10 people watch?”
“Yeah, I think I do know that! So hilarious.”
Spoiler alert: it’s probably not hilarious. And the book is probably horrible for all 700 pages. You don’t even know what any of these things are, so why would you pretend to just to avoid having someone think you’re uncultured or uninteresting or out of the loop?
Of course, this can also go much deeper than not knowing what to say in conversation. Humans naturally fear uncertainty. We can be easily overwhelmed when faced with big, existential questions. There is so much that we will never get the chance to understand in our lifetimes, and unfortunately most of us try to push this fact away while we focus on other, more immediate things. But there is also something to be said about the joy of discovery. Curiosity and imagination are feelings that are seldom experienced in adulthood unless they are cultivated by leaning into the uncertainty.
I remember when I made the conscious decision to start replying with “I don’t know”. At first it was scary wondering what someone would think if I admitted it – but eliminating the weight of lying felt so much better. Of course, there will always be a pretentious asshole who yells out a too-long “whaaaaaaaAAaaaat???” when I say I’ve never heard of their favorite Swedish DJ, but most people respect me more for just being honest. I once dated a girl who told me one of her favorite qualities of mine was that I was “brave enough” to admit when I don’t know something, and to this day it’s one of the sincerest compliments I’ve ever received.
Many of us have very real barriers (systemic, financial, racial, societal, patriarchal, etc.) that stand in the way of gaining knowledge and experience, but none of us deserve to feel ashamed of simply not knowing. I don’t know most things, and that’s okay! Nobody knows most things, and that’s a sobering concept to reflect on. Allowing yourself the space to admit this can be so freeing.
My oldest living grandparent only has an 8th grade education, but he knows more about landscaping, gardening, and model railroading than I could ever learn in my lifetime. A friend of mine grew up wealthy and graduated from an ivy league university, but once looked at me with frantic desperation because she had no idea how to use a curling iron. Each of our unique life experiences teach us vastly different lessons - and all of us also have deep fears of being perceived as not enough. If we shifted the focus from internalized shame and fear and used that energy to empower each other, imagine all the ways we could grow.
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Yes, I loved this and really have to remember that awesome freeing response...”umm I don’t know”. Even when barraged with people wanting to know “how are you? or What’s been going on?”
I have a slowly dying memory so maybe I’ll get my son to tattoo this on my arm so I can easily be reminded. Thank you for another great read. IDK xo
Another great read. Thank you for always grounding me.