“When my pockets are empty and I’ve dumped all I know, I often end up shrugging, admitting my ignorance of what to do. Humbly, it is then that the real work of love beings.”
- Mark Nepo
“To know that you do not know is highest; To not know but think you know is flawed.”
- The Tao Te Ching
Not to long ago I found myself in a little snag: I was dealing with a problem I felt I needed an answer to.
I was caught up for days in debating and investigating and studying and wondering about an answer to the problem I was struggling with it. I re-read the books written by my favorite teachers and guides, looking for answers there. I literally poured over my journals and analyzed the past few years of my life. I sat down and mapped my life all out, attempting to look for patterns, clues—answers.
No, in truth, I wasn’t looking for just “answers.” I was looking for The Answer.
Capital “T,” capital “A.”
And then one day, at the end of my exhaustive search for The Answer, I came to this surprising conclusion:
I didn’t know.
That was the answer: I didn’t know.
The answer was that I don’t know the answer. The answer was that I don’t know all the answers. The answer was that I never knew all the answers. The answer was that I will never know all the answers.
That was it: I didn’t know.
When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
There’s a growing myth in the writing world that writers need to be “in the know” about everything.
For instance, we need to know how to be savvy marketers, expert bloggers, talented social media-ers, stellar entrepreneurs, and even cutting-edge self-publishers.
As writers, we are told that we must know everything, or risk gaining nothing.
But that’s not really true.
Please allow me to release some stress off of you, my fellow overburdened and overwhelmed writers:
You DON’T need to know EVERYTHING in order to succeed.
In fact, you CAN NEVER know everything in order to succeed.
There will ALWAYS be so much that you’ll be ignorant of.
Furthermore: it’s much more important for you to focus on what you NEED to know AT THIS MOMENT rather than focusing on EVERYTHING you need to know in general.
Otherwise, you might become obsessed with trying to know everything before you let yourself begin anything.
Thus, your obsession with wanting to know everything will keep you from moving forward.
Free Yourself: Admit That You Don’t Know
When I’m working on my novel, sometimes I come to a passage that I know is lacking something.
But I have no idea what that thing is.
And yet, even though I don’t know what the passage actually needs, I give it my best shot, because I know that’s the only way that I can proceed with the writing anyway.
Maybe one day a friend, an editor, or a reader might tell me what’s missing. But maybe they won’t have an answer either.
So, I have to be at peace with the fact that there are some passages in my novel whose perfect incarnation I won’t ever come to know, and be satisfied with not knowing what’s missing. I have to be okay with my own ignorance if I am to move forward.
If you’re struggling with finding The Answer to your own writing problems, and nothing has turned up, then maybe you need to just throw your hands up in the air and say: “I don’t know!”—or else you’re never going to get back to the writing.
How Embracing Your Own Ignorance Can Bring You Peace of Mind
If, like me, you have spent days on end trying to find an answer to a problem that’s been bothering you, and you still haven’t found a solution, then try this:
Embrace your own ignorance.
Then, say this phrase out loud in the most delightful and thrilling voice you can:
“I don’t know!”
Then, smile because you have found an answer: the answer is that there is no answer. (Or at least no answer you will ever come to know.)
It should feel as if a tremendous burden has been lifted off your shoulders when you do this.
Embrace The Mystery of Life
Today, instead of trying desperately to search for an answer that can’t be found, enjoy the mystery of it all—and relish in it.
When you do this, the stress that came from trying to find The Answer (capital “T,” capital “A”) fades away and you let yourself off the hook.
You accept that you can’t know everything, and that that’s okay.
You accept that not every problem can be solved, that not every riddle can be cracked, and that some mysteries won’t ever be revealed to you—and all of THAT is okay, too.
Finally, you accept that although ignorance isn’t always blissful, it can, at times, be very freeing.
much “I don’t know!”