The Fear of Not Knowing

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fear of not knowing

We are taught that it is best to know the answers. School reinforces this over and over— you’re supposed to know the right answer to every question asked.

It’s a painful moment to have to tell your teacher that you don’t know something that you’re supposed to know in front of all your classmates who already know it (or at least pretend to).

It’s embarrassing. It feels exposing and shameful.

The “stupid question” — as in, “This might be a stupid question, but…”— points out the places where we feel like we’re supposed to know something that we don’t.

Heaven forbid that we’re caught not knowing something in front of our friends.

Some teachers try to put our fear of not knowing to rest by telling us, “There are no stupid questions.” Yet, if everyone else knows the answer and we don’t it still feels like a stupid question.

The fear of not knowing can stick with us as we leave the education system and find our way in the world. We try to avoid getting caught not knowing and stay close to what we do know and can lean on.

It’s time to get used to not knowing [tweet this]

I’m getting better at it, slowly. I’m getting better at just trying things to see what happens. A few years ago I wouldn’t take action until I’d read everything possible about the possibilities. (Just ask Stacia how many books I checked out from the library about dogs before we took the plunge and adopted our dog, Lina!) I wouldn’t try until I knew everything there was to know, and even then I’d still be hesitant.

There are many things that I don’t know: how to build a blog, how to write a book, how to launch a cohort. All of these things are past the edges of what I know. I don’t know if I’m going about them the right way, but I’m trying.

What don’t you know that you find yourself wanting to do?

  • Maybe you’d start a business, except you don’t know how to run a business.
  • Maybe you’d create a product, but you don’t know how to create a product.
  • Maybe you’d try to connect with a company that you love and admire, but you don’t know how to get in the door.
  • Or maybe something way more interesting than any of these.

You don’t have to know how to get all the way from where you are to where you want to go. The challenge with most good things is that there’s no map. [tweet that]

It’s easier to search for answers than it is to actually do the work.

You have to make it up as you go. You get to make it up as you go.

How about you? What would you do if you only knew how? What do you put off trying because you don’t know everything it will require? Share in the comments.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 6 Comments On This Post.

  1. Annie

    Not to be contradictory, but what do you say to people who are afraid to ask the question? People who don’t know how to create the question? Personally, it seems easy to run with the idea once a question has been formed. Google, networking, contacts, acquaintances; the necessary tools are only a few clicks away. But how to create the questions, that is what makes me pause and stutter and question my situation and my response.

    • I think that’s a great question, Annie. And I’m not totally sure how to answer it, yet. I’m curious if the question isn’t what you’re looking for, but something beneath the question? It feels like you’re wanting a something here, but you’re not sure what the question is. What is it that you’re wanting/seeking? I think that’s where the questions come from. Does that make sense?

  2. Phillip

    I am someone who is terrified of not knowing the outcome or answer of some things. Im afraid of being wrong or being perceived as a fool. I also am TERRIBLE at forming questions or finding a direction. This relates to everything, work, social, dating, etc. The fear of not knowing the outcome almost stops me from even trying. What would you suggest in this case?

    • Hi Phillip! Great question. Thanks for reaching out! I’d suggest that you start small and push into your fear in tiny steps.

      For example, let’s say you meet a person you’d like to get to know at in a social setting. You’re afraid to talk to them and feel intimidated. What’s the smallest step you can take? Maybe you just say one thing or ask a simple question. It might not lead to a whole conversation or the beginning of a friendship, but it’s something manageable that you can do in order to step into and face your fear.

      What often happens is that we find fear to be making a bigger deal about something that it shouldn’t.

      Where we often go wrong is by jumping into the deep end— trying to become that person’s best friend. You’ll fail and reinforce the narrative that you can’t talk to people — or whatever it may be.

      Does that help?

  3. Holly

    Just wanted to say thank you for this inspirational and wise article! It is positive and so true, and it contains ideas that bear reminding. This is my boat right now. I’ve got to overcome. Thanks for the help along the way. 🙂

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