About, Language, Musings on Life

The Shame of Admitting I Don’t Know

Image of a lake partially frozen with a sun shining behind clouds. One side of the lake has trees and the other has sand.
The world is filled with much we do not know

My dad has taught me many lessons in life. When I was in college, I called my family frequently. Since I spent most of my college years on the West Coast, I mostly called my dad, who was also located on the West Coast. I would discuss the daily and the mundane and things I was thinking. Mostly I would call on the walk from my college to my off campus housing. One of my common phrases I used, as I shared last week, was the phrase I know.

Any comment or suggestion I would respond with I know. At times my dad would express his frustration, he would say, “do not say you know when you don’t.” As I reflect on that time and that phrase, I realize that I know was a shield. I did not know but I could not handle more information. I know alleviated responsibility, alleviated having to learn more and adjust my actions accordingly. I thought since I was technically an adult, part of being an adult was knowing everything there is to know. I felt shame about what I did not know. Hearing more that I was unaware of made me feel like a failure.

I am more intentional with my discussions lately. I do not share topics I am still working through and sensitive about. I also am less likely to say I know when I truly don’t. I have started being willing to ask questions to learn, to treat others as experts and gain advice from them. Being willing to acknowledge that you do not in fact know everything is an opportunity to learn and grow. I have notice we often expect more from ourselves than is reasonable and at least in my case it comes from a place of pride. I learned this over time and through experience. I struggled with being uninformed and learned over time that there truly is no shame in not knowing. We all start as beginners and knowing what you do not know can be a valuable lesson. Today I suggest we embrace ourselves and acknowledge we do not know and we cannot know everything, rather than being a failing, it simply is a sign we are human.


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