Embrace Not Knowing

By Marketplace Designers at Canva.com

What I wished I’d known when I started my career – #4

When I first started working, I hated — absolutely hated — not knowing. I really wanted to know everything: the questions to ask, the answers to give, the processes, you name it. Everywhere I looked were people who knew more than me, and they seemed so smart. Like most youth, I wanted to sprint. I wasn’t picky about the destination as long as “there” seemed better than where I was.

There are no stupid questions

After a few years of work, I stopped gobbling up ALL information and started to be more discerning. Was this email really important to read? Should I go to that meeting? Did the advice I get from that person seem useful? I remember one particular “moment”: An experienced person on the business development side with a MBA sat me down and gave me advice about presentation slides. And I didn’t buy it. I knew the guy was older than me, and he had more education — but the advice didn’t make sense. During a 1:1 with my boss, I expressed my exasperation and she simply said, “Oh, you should ignore that advice.” Oh, OK…

That was the beginning of forming my gut. What was important to know? Who should I listen to? What should I ask? And I’m still honing my instincts years later.

The variable distance of learning

Along the way I grew more confident with that space of time between “not knowing” and “knowing”. That amount of time varies in length, cannot always be predicted, and often requires extensions. I may think I’ll arrive at an answer through specific research, only to find out that I need to learn way more than I anticipated (example: how to find a book publisher). Again and again I saw that it was okay to say “I don’t know”, to ask questions and show people that I was eager to learn, and to embrace the learning process. In fact, I learned more by showing people that I needed help than by pretending I knew more than I did.

Not only did I grow more confident, it made me like learning more. I love “not knowing” now. What cool thing do I get to learn? Who can teach me? Who will I meet? There’s way more opportunity in “not knowing” than sitting around knowing only what I know.

Making Decisions with Limited Everything

And then even later I embraced that I will never know ALL the things, and I still need to make decisions. For example, as a leader I know employees rarely share whether they will look for new roles in the next year or two. So with guesses of attrition and the knowledge that I’ll still be surprised by who actually leaves, I make team planning, strategy and hiring decisions. We do the best we can with limited information, the experience of running teams, and some instinct/gut thrown in. And then we can learn from what happens and use that for the next time. And that’s okay too.

I suppose this is one area that you could have told me about, and I still would have had to learn it myself. But I’ll include it here regardless because I really really wish I’d known. Because it’s still really nice to know.

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