Get comfortable with ‘I don’t know’

“I’m not happy in my work,” Cathi said. “I don’t feel I can express who I am, and I feel depleted and empty most of the time.”

I sensed something deeper was going on, so I asked, “Is it really your work that is inviting you to feel depleted and empty?”

“I don’t know ... and I hate not knowing,” she replied.

“Stay in the space of not knowing for a few minutes,” I said. “What does this space feel like?”

“I feel frustrated and stupid,” Cathi responded.

“How is the space of ‘I don’t know’ connected to you feeling frustrated and stupid?” I asked.

“When I was growing up, my parents and teachers constantly asked me questions,” she said. “When I would answer, ‘I don’t know,’ they would get angry and frustrated, as though I should know. It’s embarrassing not knowing the answer. I hated it, and I still do.”

“Let’s sit quietly in the space of ‘I don’t know,’ ” I suggested.

The room felt uncomfortably quiet, but I wanted her to try on the feeling of not knowing and see that it was OK. “Breathe through the discomfort and try to get used to being in this space,” I said.

After a few minutes, I said, “Let me ask you a question. If you don’t know about your work, what is it that you do know?”

“I know that I am trying too hard to figure it out,” Cathi said. “That’s probably why I feel depleted and tired.”

“Say the words, ‘I don’t know,’ three times.”

“I don’t know,” she began, sounding frustrated. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” She laughed as she said it the third time.

“Why are you giggling?” I asked.

“Because it’s kind of fun to be in the space of ‘I don’t know,’ ” she said. “By not feeling as though I should know, it relieves some pressure.”

“Do you have to know?” I asked.

“I suppose I don’t have to know,” Cathi said.

“From the perspective of being OK not knowing, what’s here for you now?” I asked.

“It feels like an adventure. The unknown can be exciting,” she said.

“From the feeling of adventure and the unknown, if I were to ask you about your career plans, what would you say?” I asked.

She hesitated, smiled and then said, “I don’t know. ... It feels OK to not know.”

“And if I were to pressure you and ask for more clarification, how does that feel?”

“I used to get flustered and try harder to know,” Cathi said. “But I feel myself being comfortable not knowing. It’s quite liberating!”

“What if you were to practice being in the space of ‘I don’t know,’ ” I suggested. “How could you do that?”

“Just giving myself permission to not know relieves some of the pressure,” Cathi said. “When I feel pressured to know, I’ll remember this feeling, smile and say, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Coaching challenge: When you feel pressure to KNOW, say the words “I don’t know,” three times out loud.

Then ask, “Do I need to know? What if I don’t know? From the space of NOT knowing, what’s here for me now?”

Give yourself a break and allow yourself to NOT know. From this open space, you can invite whatever is next to come in with an open heart.

# # #

Sheri Fisher is a life coach living in Grand Junction. The situations and characters in her column are fictional to maintain client confidentiality. For more information, go to:


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