Saturday, December 29, 2012

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know (Or Do You?)

You have likely heard the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know”. For those of you who know me pretty well, I’m sure you have heard me say this, as I say it quite often and in many contexts. What does it really mean? How does it apply to us? Or… more importantly, how can it get in our way?

Not knowing (and not knowing what we don’t know) can keep us stuck, miserable and safe. If we want to make a change or take an action but we just don’t know how, then what? What happens? For many people, not knowing if or how they can do something not only stops them from pursuing it, but often prevents them from even allowing themselves to desire it at all! Sometimes people are conscious of this, but often times they are not.

In my coaching practice, one of the questions I ask (perhaps more than any other) is, “What do you want?” It’s a simple question, right? Not so much. It actually is a simple question; however, it is NOT an easy one for many people. For example, if you are unhappy with your current career path or job, how can you possibly put together an action plan if you don’t know what you want to do instead? As obvious as that may sound, people do this all the time. Or, perhaps I should say that they make themselves frustrated, overwhelmed and miserable because they just can’t figure out “a plan”. The first question that comes up for me, if it is not already clear, is “What do you want?” A person will say something such as “I want to get out of where I am. I want something that pays more, where they respect me, where I feel more fulfilled, etc.” If I press the person to be more specific (and I always do!), this is where it gets muddy. If s/he TRULY doesn’t know, those things she mentioned can certainly help her to get closer to figuring it out. However, what is often actually happening is that the person doesn’t think it’s possible, does not know how to get what she really truly wants, so instead, she goes for what she thinks she can (or should) attain.

If deep down in your heart and soul, you know you are an artist, but you think you can’t or don’t know how to monetize that, you might not even allow yourself to want it and so you say you don’t know if someone asks you what you want. And maybe you even believe it. If, for example, you know you need to make a business plan for your new venture, not knowing how to do it and/or what you want or think you can accomplish in 3-5 years, this can prevent you from dealing with it at all.

The thing is…I truly believe that not knowing HOW is the easiest problem to have. You can brainstorm that. You can research it. You can ask others. You can be creative. You can have faith that the answer will come and put all of your energies into focusing on it and doing everything necessary to make it happen. However, if you don’t even know what you want, NOTHING will happen to get you closer to it until you do know. I am reminded of a Ben Stein quote which immediately became one of my favorites upon hearing it: “The indispensable first step to getting the things you want in this life is this: Decide what you want!”