What If You Did Know?©

You already know my passion for debunking stories – the stories that you believe to be true about business, life and yourself which define your outcomes until you choose to put them down. This also includes stories that you create (usually unknowingly) in order to keep you stuck. One of the most beguiling stories is one that seems to be the most true, which is precisely why it can be so vexing and also seductive. This story gets significantly in your way on a regular basis and it’s only three words: “I don’t know.”

Let me introduce this distracting story to you through a recent example. I was having lunch with my friend Allan, who is struggling with what direction to take in his professional life. He had been working in the same industry and for the same company for many years, but he had finally found the courage to leave the comfort of what he knew to go in search of his next life’s adventure (and perhaps even to connect with his personal passion and purpose). After a lengthy discussion about ideas and options, I asked Allan a simple question that led to the following exchange:

Jeff:      What do you really want to do?

Allan:   I don’t know.

Jeff:      Yes you do.

Allan:   I really don’t know.

Jeff:      I think you know.

Allan:   Screw you, Jeff! [Said with smirk on his face] I do know, but why am I so certain that I don’t know?

Jeff:      You already know inside, but you can’t admit you know because then it’s really difficult not to take action to pursue what you know.

In other words, once you know, then you will have to take action consistent with this knowing and that is the scary part. This is the curse and the allure of the “I don’t know” story.

I hear so many people say that they “don’t know.” They don’t know what to do; they don’t know what job they want; they don’t know what relationship they want, and so on. In reality, I think they often do know, but they don’t want to know. Once you know something (and admit you know it), then you have two options: 1. Take action in pursuit of what you know; or 2. Admit that you know and are still choosing not to take action to pursue what you know. Not surprisingly, for many people it’s easier to claim not to know.

When you admit what you know, you limit yourself to the two options listed above. Obviously, you must take action to achieve that which you desire. Unfortunately, taking action has risks associated with it. You might make mistakes. You might get off course. You might come up short. You might even fail. While taking action in pursuit of your knowing is the only way to move toward your desired results, taking action has risks.

In apparent contrast, knowing but choosing not to take action seems to be the safer route. While choosing not to take action will assure that you never achieve your desired outcomes or results, this course of inaction has fewer risks – or does it? You think you cannot make mistakes through inaction, but the choice of inaction itself is often the biggest mistake. You think you cannot get off course by inaction, but inaction necessarily will keep you off course, and most people who are pondering these questions are already off course. You think you cannot fail by choosing inaction, but the choice of inaction itself assures that you will fail in the most important aspects of your life. Are you getting the point? Taking action in pursuit of your own knowing and choosing to ignore your own knowing and failing to take action are both fraught with the same risks, but only action offers you a potential reward.

This dichotomy seems to argue strongly in favor of taking action, and I agree – taking action is the path to choose once you have acknowledged your own knowing. However, the foregoing highlights how seductive not knowing can be. By not knowing, you avoid facing the difficult choice between action and conscious inaction. Not knowing is the safest route. Not knowing is the only way to stay in your comfort zone, and we love our comfort zones. Not knowing is the best and only way to avoid experiencing your own state of being lost. Not knowing is the only way to avoid the internal disruption that exists when you are aware of a need for change, but you choose to stay as you are and where you are. The truths are real, and they illustrate how comforting and comfortable not knowing can be. This is the reason that “I don’t know” can be such a debilitating state of mind and being.

Not knowing also gives you one other seductive outcome: you can blame others or outside circumstances for where you are. Look at it this way–if you don’t know, then you can’t decide and it makes perfect sense to stay where you are. You may be unhappy, unfulfilled, settling, off course or stuck, but if you “don’t know” then it seems reasonable to stay right where you are and continue thinking about what you should do different. And since you “don’t know,” then it’s not your fault – it’s the fault of situations, circumstances and your lack of knowing. This is a powerfully compelling argument to yourself, yet the outcome is the same – you and your life will never change.

The next time you find or hear yourself saying “I don’t know,” I hope you will reflect on what you have seen and experienced above. Challenge yourself and your own “I don’t know,” and also surround yourself with people that are willing to challenge your “I don’t knows” in the same way.

Finally, when you are holding on tight to your own “I don’t know,” flip your perspective by asking yourself this one question: “What if I did know?” The seemingly minor twist of this question has the power to open your eyes, your mind and your spirit to deeper understandings and truths. It can also be the pathway for you to get past your “I don’t know” and to discover and unleash that which you already do know. I believe that you already know and that the only question is whether you are willing to embrace your knowing and then to take action on that knowing.

What is your big “I don’t know?” What is the question you keep asking yourself for which your answer is always “I don’t know?” Now is your time to break out of the “I don’t know” and step into your conscious knowing. Take a few minutes and write down the top three I don’t knows in your life:

  1. ­                                                                                                                       

Next, create a quiet time and space to simply sit with these seemingly unanswered questions. Do not try to figure out the answers, but instead allow the answers to come to you. If you feel stuck, then try out the question above: What if you did know? When you have the answers – most of which are probably already there – you will experience a state of knowing and self-empowerment that you have never experienced before. Armed with this knowing, you can then take purposeful action to turn what you know into what you desire.

If you are still stuck in “I don’t know,” remember this: when you are in the state of perceived not knowing, it is a state of mind that is difficult to change (i.e. stuck), and it often takes action (just action) or a decision (any decision) to get unstuck. The most common response to not knowing is to try to figure it out – to spend more time thinking about it so that you can hopefully know. This is a false hope. If you are stuck in “I don’t know,” then you cannot think your way out of it. Your unconscious self has already come up with a long list of reasons for why you should not know (comfort zone, play it safe, don’t take a risk, etc.), so all the thinking in the world will actually only reinforce the state of “I don’t know.” In short, when you find yourself not knowing, then the best course of action may be to make a decision (even a small one) and take action on that decision.

In my heart I believe this to be true – you already know. It’s time for you to allow this knowing to inspire you to take action so that you can transform your business, your relationships and your life.


  1. Fabulous article. I like the way you cut right to the chase. Once you know that I don’t know is a cop out it’s even harder to say it!

  2. Great Article Jeff – It really got me thinking. My three? Time with family, Money I earn, and my reputation. After I wrote them down, I see something behind each one. Thanks again!

  3. I wasn’t expecting this article when I saw the headline. It took me by surprise and cut to my “I don’t knows”….some I’ve gotten past and some still haunting me. And you’re right, I do know, and now will be taking little steps to move things out of the spin cycle.

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