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The Joy Of Not Knowing

When I was in high school, my favourite class was Physics. It was fascinating and damn hard at the same time. I couldn't believe that my teacher, Mr. Mader, knew about angular momentum, wave theory, force mechanics and so much more. He seemed to know everything and made it look easy.

I wanted to know all the things too, so when I signed up for University, my major was in Physics. What a mistake. My first Physics class was a nightmare. The professor made everything seem so easy, but each week we'd have 20 pages of problems to solve and I couldn't do 80% of them. I didn't even know where to start.

After a few weeks of frustration and panic, I took one of my assignments to Mr. Mader, to see if he could help me learn this stuff. I'll never forget the meeting.

Mr. Mader was willing to help, but he sure didn't have automatic answers. For every problem, he's say "! Well, what if we tried this? Hmm..that didn't work, what about that?" To my 18 year old self, it seemed like he didn't have a clue!

That meeting has stuck with me ever since. Thirty five years later, I still think about it. I missed his lesson at the time, and for a long time after. But lately I've started to figure it out.

You see, the Joy doesn't come from having all the answers at your fingertips. It comes from being curious. It comes from the adventure of figuring things out. And it comes from being comfortable with not knowing the answer.

This is a very hard lesson to learn.

  • Have you ever felt anxious at work because you think people are looking to you for answers?

  • Were you a new parent and thought "I don't know how to do this?"

  • Have you pitched your services and felt pressure to talk about all the things you already know?

I've felt all those things and I still do. It takes a lot of discipline to say "I don't know" and feel good about it.

But I think that's the real secret to happiness, in life and in business. Being comfortable not knowing the answer right now. Remembering that you've figured things out before and you'll likely do it again.

All the things that I’m doing these days, from interviewing strangers to forming online communities to writing this blog are things that I don’t really know how to do.

But figuring it out is a lot of fun, so long as I remind myself of Mr. Mader’s lesson.

What say you? Ready to call B.S. on this? Can’t see how it applies to your work? Let me know in the comments!

PS - Another take on this: my friend and mentor Curt often said, "just think of how good we'll all feel once we solve this problem!"

Hey, I never said I was a quick learner.