I Don’t Know

I am in the midst of reading a fabulous book entitled Tell Me More, by Kelly Colligan. I discovered it just yesterday while listening to an interview with Kelly on the Rich Roll podcast. I developed a big crush on and then fell in love in love with her all within the span of two hours. Before I’d even finished listening to the interview I had called the bookstore, purchased three copies of the book, sent one to each of my sisters, and started into my own.

I’m in a particularly retrospective mood these days. I have a lot of time to think given this whole unemployment thing, but have recently and thankfully moved from a period of quiet panic into one of trepidatious confidence that I’ll land somewhere soon. And as such, I’ve allowed myself to ease up on ego-bruising emails to distant former colleagues, on requests for coffees, on traveling through the LinkedIn abyss. And to do things like go for a two-hour run/walk in the middle of the day just simply to enjoy the weather and a podcast. If all goes as planned, I won’t be able to do this in a few months.

A Huffington Post writer referred to Kelly as the Poet Laureate of The Ordinary. IN 2010. How did it take me this long to discover this author? I am thankful for the timing, meaning I have time. And I’ve dipped my toe into tween land and so her “ordinary” experiences are even that much more relevant than they would have been during the pumping and diaper years. I’m halfway through the book and I would say the Poet Laureate of the Ordinary is a perfect description. She has made me laugh and cry, made me feel normal, justified and lucky, and inspired enough to write a blog post. In this book, she tells stories about the twelve phrases she believes most important to navigating the world. “I don’t know” is one of them.

I’ve always told my colleagues how powerful a phrase “I don’t know” is. It’s refreshingly honest, and gives other people license to say the same. It buys you time to think, to investigate if necessary, to determine the most appropriate way to respond to whatever the subject matter may be. It ultimately makes the audience feel as though you’ve taken their comment or question seriously because you’ve given it real estate in your head, so long as you return to it and close that loop (if closable – some stuff just isn’t) later. But I’d never thought too much about it in my personal life. And now that I have, I’ve realized I say it quite a lot, much to the frustration of my youngest.

“I don’t know, honey” is something I say to Maggie a lot. The dreaded “why?” of the early years has morphed into a more mature curiosity about everything from the really important to the completely mundane. When I say “I don’t know” to her, I mean it. But she doesn’t like it. She wants a choice. Wants the answer. She thinks, as her mother, that I should have it. Though it’s tempting just to give her any answer to end an endless conversation, I love her too much to do so. The uncertainty makes her uncomfortable. And the fact is, uncertainty is uncomfortable. In the book, Kelly quotes Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Take a daily snapshot of the world and you’d be hard-pressed to challenge this point of view: there is just so much about life that makes no sense at all.

I simultaneously hate and admire people who seem always to be certain. I wish I could be as emphatic as they – wouldn’t life be easier that way? And yet I know the reason I’m not is because life isn’t easy. This isn’t to say I’m not decisive when the situation calls for it. Being in a constant waffle state helps no one and solves nothing. But being too quick to judge, too quick to decide, too sure of your own thoughts and feelings is just as, if not more dangerous as being doubtful. It closes you off from internalizing the things people are saying and feeling or worse, deters those around you from saying anything at all in your company. And that necessarily results in a contracted, more insular world that makes assuredness and certainty even more absurd.

Confidence is something I’m trying to instill in my kids, but I’m trying to do so in a way that doesn’t make them assholes. Unjustified confidence is unbecoming. I’d argue not knowing, which society can mistake as weakness, has the power to be equally as endearing.


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