Practice being ok with not knowing

question markI have been sitting with the question of knowing, and not knowing, and how sure I will ever be.  My conclusion is, not really sure, not ever.  But that does not stop me from wanting to know.  I think this is probably a universal human dilemma, but let me tell you a bit about how it is showing up for me these days.  I am in a new job, with new responsibilities.  Obviously any time someone takes a new job they take on new responsibilities.  This change for me is bigger than other job changes I have made, because I took a role that has little to do with my area of expertise in which I have been practicing and leading for many years.  It is an amazing opportunity, at this point in my career (relatively senior) to have a chance to change roles so significantly and have a completely new area of practice.   I am really enjoying it, and it is also true that every day I am doing something new that I have not done before – figuring out some new problem, thinking about some new process, or exploring some new part of my scope of responsibility.  Everything is new, even many of the people I am working with and how I need to work with them.

This entire adventure has put me in a constant state of not knowing.  I often don’t know what to do when I encounter something new, which happens daily.  And I really don’t know if what I am doing is right.  I find the first kind of not knowing actually kind of fun.  Every new thing presents an opportunity to learn, to dig in to root cause and think about what the real problem is, to experiment and try something new.  While there is a large body of domain expertise in front of me to understand, I believe that over time I will acquire knowledge and experience so that eventually not everything will feel so new.  The second kind of not knowing about whether what I am doing is right will be a constant, and actually always has been.  There is no way to know that what you do is right.  Not from external feedback, anyway.  That kind of certainty is an illusion.  One that I allowed myself more often when I was an expert leading in the area of my expertise.  When you have years of experience, it is easier to fall in to the trap of thinking that you are right, and harder to stay in beginner’s mind.  Now that I am leading in an area when I am not an expert, it is much easier to bring an attitude of not knowing what is right.  But it can still be uncomfortable.  At times I find myself yearning for the comfort, the security of certainty. It may be an illusion, but it is a comfortable one.

So, I am practicing being ok with not knowing.  Every day.  I hope to be able to maintain that attitude, even after I grow my expertise in my new field of practice.

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One Response to Practice being ok with not knowing

  1. Karl Hoover says:

    Eleanor, Love the transparency and perspective of the beginners mind. Seems to me that if you are reflecting on what you believe you don’t know and striving to learn daily, then you are in that sweet spot of humility, curiosity & perseverance all wrapped together. – Karl

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