The power of saying “I don’t know”

When I was in my twenties I was perfect. Or at least I thought I was in my own head. I could do no wrong and if anyone questioned me or my actions I would go into meltdown. And guess what? I failed miserably at almost everything I did. There were a few flukes where things went really well but a lot of the time I was languishing in my own self pity while outwardly telling the world that I was the most knowledgeable person on the planet.

Anyone who has been reading the past posts on this blog will know that I’ve had trouble with addictions in the past and one of the big character defects that you see time and time again in addicts is that they can’t see the error of their own ways. Why else would they drink themselves to near death and financial ruin?

However, when we get better we have the advantage of being able to see things from two very different perspectives and I’m glad that I was so steadfastly adamant that I had it all right because now I know that that is impossible to achieve and it’s laughable to think that you can get anywhere in anything without a little help from those around you. It’s no coincidence that all athletes say that they couldn’t have won their gold medal without their families and their coaches. It really is true. Without that support they’d still be jogging round the park with the rest of us.

So saying “I need help” or “I don’t know” or “can you tell me how?” is anything but the weakness that I first thought it was. It means that you are able to use a whole heap of resources and information and advice that comes your way from just asking. Think of the time and energy that will save by just asking the question!

This is precisely why it’s important to find a mentor or a group of people that you trust who can guide you and support you in difficult times. If it is just you weathering the storm on your own then there is nowhere near as much chance of success. Taking it back to what I’ve learnt from getting sober I know that it is near impossible to do that on your own. People who are the most successful are those that have a sponsor and go to meetings so that they have a huge network of people to call on when they’re having a bad day.

My argument against telling people that I didn’t know the answer was that it would make me look stupid. Actually I’ve learnt that when you are open about the fact that you have flaws and holes in your knowledge, it makes you appear just a little bit vulnerable and quite a lot more likeable. Nobody likes a smart ass, especially when they are just talking a load of rubbish. If people are going to buy into your ideas and your visions then they have to see you as a human being that has hopes and dreams and feelings just like them.

The worst thing that you can do when you don’t know, is to pretend that you do and I’ve learned that the hard way (trust me on that one!). You just look like a fool because you’ll always be found out. Even if you’re doing your first Saturday job in a clothes store, if someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, go get the manager. A customer would rather wait and get the right information!

Having said all this, I would put up a word of warning and say that you should always arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. If you keep saying ‘I don’t know’ people will start to think that you don’t know your stuff. You’ll just have so much more confidence going into a situation if you are fully prepared and you can back up what you are saying with examples, even if they are just examples that are personal to you.

So go out there and practice. You might find that you learn more than you expected and you branch out and meet new and interesting people just by saying that you don’t know the answer to a question. The doors that it could open are infinite. Whole communities have been built on wanting to learn more about a subject and you could be at the heart of it. To me, that sounds like a really fun and exciting place to be.

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