By S. Chick
I’ve come to the conclusion that “I don’t know” is one the scariest phrases in the English language. Think about it. How many times recently have you admitted that you don’t know something? I am guessing probably not that many. Certainly for me, my own personal tally has been pretty low for most of my life.
I was one of those really annoying kids at school. A real teacher’s pet you might say. Eager to please and succeed. My arm was pretty much permanently raised, poised to answer any question (it’s a wonder I didn’t develop repetitive strain injury)! I quickly became “Little Miss Know-it-all” and for a while this seemed to serve me quite well. In our modern, western world where knowledge is king, this way of being is not only encouraged but also greatly rewarded.
Before embarking on my training to become a therapist, I worked in the heady heights of the corporate world. This of course complimented (or colluded might be a better word) with my urge to have all the answers
Before embarking on my training to become a therapist, I worked in the heady heights of the corporate world. This of course complimented (or colluded might be a better word) with my urge to have all the answers. I was now surrounded by other like-minded souls all tapping away on their calculators and laptops, desperately trying to pin down the answer (ideally to two decimal places I’ll have you know). There was no point in asking a question, if an answer couldn’t be found. There created a (false) sense of security. If everything had an answer, then there was no scary unknown to catch you out. We could inhabit a world of certainty.
As I quickly progressed up the career ladder, I learnt various rules for corporate survival. One of these was to never admit you didn’t know something, and if caught short, make something up instead. Essentially it’s better to lie, and sacrifice truth and authenticity, than to say, “I don’t know”. Think about that for a moment. How scary and dangerous is that? If what I experienced is replicated elsewhere, no wonder we’ve seen the financial and corporate world in free fall in the last few years. No one seems to want to admit that they don’t know.
lets not forget that sometimes the question can be just as important, if not more so, than the answer
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that our search for knowledge is the wrong path. By all means lets stay curious about this wondrous world and our fellow inhabitants. But lets not forget that sometimes the question can be just as important, if not more so, than the answer. Our journey is greater than the destination itself. When we try to pin down every answer, then yes maybe we remove the anxious unknown but it comes at a price. We also lose the chance for play, spontaneity and creativity.
Thankfully my therapeutic training has helped me to start to let go of the shackles of certainty and embrace the fertile ground of the unknown. When I let go of that false and impossible persona of “knowing it all”, I allow a space to emerge in my personal work and with clients. That space is the unknown. It is impossible to describe or pin down. In fact by naming it so, you essentially destroy its very state of being unknown.
When I am able to say, “I don’t know” to my client, I invite us both to play and explore as equal partners in the therapeutic journey
When I am able to say, “I don’t know” to my client, I invite us both to play and explore as equal partners in the therapeutic journey. This is key. For if I cannot relinquish my own need for control and certainty, how on earth can I expect my clients to venture into their own unknown. When I am willing to say, “I don’t know”, I demonstrate my willingness to be in that unknown space. And if I can be there, so too can my clients.
However “Little Miss Know-it-all” ain’t going away without a fight. As I come near the end of my psychotherapy training, I am entering the anxious state of the unknown and reverting back to my old comfortable persona as a form of quick relief.
I am surrounded by questions (from me and the people around me). These include; “So what now?” “Where will you see clients?” “What will you specialize in”, “How are you going to attract clients?” “How will you handle referrals?” The list of questions is endless and it can feel quite overwhelming.
As I consider these questions I go to my heady place (as opposed to my happy place); desperately searching my brain for answers like flipping through an oversized 1980’s Rolodex. I search so hard that my head starts to ache and soon my anxiety turns to panic and self-doubt begins to creep in. This is not a good place to be. I’ve realised that I can’t think my way out of this.
If I put my faith in the unknown and allow that to be, the answers will come.
Thankfully I now am starting to allow all of these many questions to be just that. Many questions. They don’t need answers, not right now anyway. If I put my faith in the unknown and allow that to be, the answers will come. If I let go of not needing to have all the answers, they may actually become easier to find.
I recently found myself struggling in my personal therapy. I frustrated myself trying to answer my therapist’s questions using my head alone. I found myself exasperated throwing my hands in the air exclaiming, “I don’t have any answers”. My therapist received my frustration with a knowing smile. I caught myself and took a deep breath. In that moment, I realized that this was exactly where I needed to be. I couldn’t use my head as a way of avoiding the unknown. It had to just be. I had to just be. It may not be wholly comfortable and boy it ain’t that familiar, but this space of the unknown is where the real magic happens!