Credit: Jason Weiss for Fredi
As a therapist, I work with many clients who struggle with not knowing the answers.
They become frustrated with themselves for getting less than 100% on tests, they see their needing help as burdening those around them and a reflection that they are less than.
I experience this same discomfort with not knowing— every. single. day. I find myself trying to learn all there is to know about topics at work (that experts have studied for decades, written books, and taught courses about). I also find myself trying to predict the future (it takes all my strength not to google the outcome of movies). It’s human to experience worry in the face of ambiguity and unknowns. But it’s anxiety when that worry prevents us from living our lives, taking action, and achieving our goals.
Life is full of uncertain futures, gray areas and unknown hobbies, situations, and topics we have yet to master yet.
"It’s human to experience worry in the face of ambiguity and unknowns. But, it’s anxiety when that worry prevents us from living our lives, taking action, and achieving our goals."
If we let our worry amplify the danger in our minds, and underestimate our own power and competency (this is what anxiety is- overestimating risk and underestimating our ability to cope), we risk sacrificing moments of pride, fulfillment, pleasure, and connection. We risk not evolving, not growing, and not experiencing the inevitable satisfaction of having accomplished something truly challenging.
If we give up after a failed attempt, we deny ourselves the pride that comes from perseverance and the pleasure that comes after a task or activity becomes easier. We also prevent ourselves from experiencing the connection that comes from asking for help and being open to the wisdom, guidance, and learnings of people who love and care for us.
So, what can you do to find more comfort with not knowing?
Embrace the process.
Remind yourself there’s more beauty in the seeking than the knowing. It’s the process and the journey and not the outcome or destination that reflects who you are. Your effort, patience, fortitude, persistence all mean more than your bosses’ approval (though that can be the icing on the cake).
Focus on the end result.
Remind yourself that anything easy is likely not worth achieving, and focus on the pride you will inevitably feel whether 1 week or 1 year from now when you do achieve your goal.
Get comfortable with discomfort.
Remind yourself that being good at everything would be very boring, and that the pursuit of learning and growth- failures and all, is what makes the outcome even more satisfying.
Reflect on what you’re good at.
Make a list of all the things you have learned that were difficult initially. What did you do to get better? What did you do to overcome setbacks? Who helped?
Trust your own strength.
You may just be underestimating your ability to overcome the challenge ahead, withstand setbacks, and persevere. Make a list of all your positive attributes. If this is hard, reflect on positive feedback you’ve received from others as evidence.
Let it out, then let it go.
Let yourself feel whatever feelings arise after disappointments or when your own expectations for yourself are not met- but only for a short time. Don’t dwell.
Use your mistakes, failures, and missed expectations as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. Write a list of intentions and learnings to take with you moving forward.
Your imperfections are what make you so interesting, unique and unlike anyone else on the planet.
Show yourself some gratitude.
Have confidence that knowledge, comfort, experience, will all come with time. Try to appreciate who you are in the moment. You are doing the best you can.
Ask for help.
Ask for help from people who would relish the opportunity to connect with you and share with you what they know. This takes strength and courage, so pat your brave self on the back when you do this.
What are times you have struggled with not knowing? Have you ever worried about not being good at something? How do you handle life’s ambiguous moments? What strategies have helped you overcome fear and doubt and keep persevering? Which of the suggestions above might you apply to your life?
I personally find comfort in reminding myself that I am doing the best I can and that I am constantly evolving, learning, and soaking up knowledge with every second of every day, even when I don’t realize it or haven’t read the whole book about it.
In uncertain times, I know more than I think I know, and you do too.