An overrated societal virtue is the notion that we must know everything all of the time. You see it everywhere. You’re in elementary school—“what do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re a junior in high school—“where do you want to go to college?” “What do you want to major in?” “What do you want to do after college?” You’re in college—“what do you want to do for the rest of your life?” If and when you say “I don’t know,” no one seems satisfied. Why? Why can’t you not know?
I worked in fast food for over a year up until I went away to college, and I had this particular boss. He said to me one day, “Wanna know my best advice for college?” I said, “Sure,” and he told me, “Know what you wanna do going into college.” After he said that, I knew to disregard it and any other advice he had to offer me. As an undecided major with no clue what I wanted to do not only out of college but in it as well, this conversation was not ideal. It came out a little while later that he had some previous violations with the law and thus his employment was terminated. This is not to say that you shouldn’t listen to someone who tells you that you should know what you want to do with your life, but rather to keep an open mind and take things with a grain of salt.
In class the other day, we were reading an essay and sharing details about the writer’s prose. There was a period where everyone seemed to quiet down and no one offered up a point at our professor’s request. I raised my hand in the silence, pointed to a detail in the piece and my professor asked, “What do you think this means?” I responded truthfully, sincerely and curiously. “I don’t know.” The words felt like fresh air. It was as if I had just confessed something and it felt wonderful. This is not to say that you should go through life or school with no ambition or desire to interpret, but rather that it’s okay when you genuinely don’t know the answer. This way you can listen with curious ears to what others may have interpreted the point as.
Furthermore, we tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the future and the past. Did I make the right decision? Will I be satisfied with this course of action? Did I act alright in that social situation earlier? Did I do well on that test? Am I going to be able to make money off of this pipe dream? Is this a waste of time? Am I going to like this new activity I joined? Are they all going to like me? Am I doing it right? But you can’t possibly know the answers to all of these questions—to all of the queries that plague your conscious mind on the daily. Instead, we worry and we overthink and we wonder what we may have done wrong. The answer may not be one that you can conjure up or find easily. Knowledge can take time and experience. Therefore, you might find that your head’s a little clearer and your mind’s a bit more at ease if you shrug your shoulders, breathe out, and say, “I don’t know.”