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.

Do I need a mentor and where do I find one?

From a very early age we find our way in life by finding somebody to follow and learn from. Whether that be a teacher or a parent or somebody else, there is always someone that we latch onto and copy. We look to them for help and advice and they stop us from veering way off track. But as an adult it’s much harder to find somebody to help us along. We are also left wondering whether or not it’s even necessary to have a mentor.

In my opinion I think that it’s vital to have someone there to lead us. In business and writing and blogging there are so many complexities that it’s almost impossible to navigate your way to the top without the guidance of at least one person. Even if there are some things that you are fabulous at, there will be elements that you will find harder to get to grips with. For example, you may be a great leader and motivator but rubbish at the numbers side of things. In this case, doesn’t it make sense to look up to people who are great in that area?

Mentors can also become close friends and can offer really great emotional support. Some of the women that I have welcomed into my circle have become great confidants and it’s always nice to have a person to go to if you need a good cry over a cup of coffee.

You do want somebody to guide you who you have a good relationship with, but you also need to have a lot of respect for them because you have to be able to trust their instincts and their advice. You have to be sure that they have your best interest in heart so always be careful who you go putting your undivided trust in.

There are some huge advantages to having a close relationship to your mentor but I don’t think that you should worry if you can’t find someone right off the bat. There are so many mentors to be found through books and youtube videos and other blogs. Read books like Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg to get you pumped up to be a powerful woman in business. Look up to these people who have already carved out a place for themselves at the very top of their fields. You never know when you might be there yourself and others will be reading your words in the hope of finding some divine inspiration!

If you are determined to find actual people who you can interact with personally then it’s all about gaining contacts and the only way to do that is to network. Tell people that you have started a business or blog and connect with others who are doing the same thing. These people who are in the trenches with you are the ones that can support you and promote you and you can do the same for them. You can swap tips and warn each other of potential pitfalls and the bigger your network the more chance you have of speaking to the RIGHT person at the RIGHT time.

So, please consider getting somebody in your life that you can look up to because it will push you on to greater things. Business is not really about selling but about connecting and if you can do that really well you’re going to make it big. Go find those special people, listen to them and then pass it on to someone else who needs help just like you did.