It’s okay if you don’t know everything. For many years I’ve understood this in my head, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to internalize it at a deeper level. Not knowing doesn’t mean that you’re intentionally ignorant, nor does it offer an excuse to play dumb all the time. Instead it means that you’re willing to speak up and say the parts you understand, but pause right at the cliff; right at the point where you want to speculate and look smart to the room. Instead, take a breath, call out the uncharted territory that you’re about to enter, then step forward.
This happened recently in a critical meeting with several team members. I presented on a topic, one which I’d prepared for and understood well. However, during the meeting questions came up outside the happy path I’d planned. At first I was tempted to push forward and speculate, to cover up and pretend. However, I had a reminder floating around in the back of my head, telling me everything was going to be fine. I took a deep breath, called out to the team that I wasn’t sure about the questions, since they were an area I hadn’t thought about or explored. However, as a fast followup, I then shared some ideas that came to mind in the moment.
That both allowed me the room to be candid, to be vulnerable, and also opened up the space to move into unknowns, to speculate. That balance is critical, and building trust with your team can lead to transparency and openness.
At times I’ve been criticized for not knowing, for admitting I didn’t understand something. However, those times are very rare and I could likely recall them on a single hand. It’s possible that I was self-ingratiating, and my attitude in the situation showed through. Or it’s possible that the person I admitted vulnerability with didn’t know how to handle that, and based on their own insecurities used it as a weapon against me. Those examples though aren’t worth the walls that I’d be tempted to throw up just to protect myself from a few uncomfortable situations.
My recent call helped to further cement in my brain the value of not knowing; when combined with doing your absolute best, bringing everything you have to the table, you may be able to open doors to new opportunities.