I have a really good friend who is in somewhat of a life-funk. This friend is incredibly passionate and creative, but lacks professional support in their current life endeavor. More specifically, this person’s talents are somewhat going to waste as a result of a poor supervisor and a toxic work space. And the saddest part of it all, is that this friend knows they are missing out. And this friend knows they are not maximizing their full set of skills and capsules of energy. This friend knows they are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of life-unhappiness and resentment.
And I was thankful this friend reached out to me.
After going back and forth for about an hour, I finally asked my friend, “What is it that you ultimately want?” My friend’s response was raw and vulnerable.
“That’s the problem, I don’t know what I want.”
Of course, I would argue, this friend is not alone.
Their response provoked light bulbs and explosions in my head, and I instantly started swimming in reflection related to similar conversations I have had with other friends and colleagues over the past few months. How do we know what we want if we don’t know what it is that we want? Will we know what it looks like when it nears? Will our name be stamped on it like a present?
Let’s pause here for a moment.
When I lived in China this past fall, there was a day when I was incredibly hung up on a specific something. Now, in all honesty, I have no clue what that something was, and, in fact, it pains me that I can’t remember. Either way, this certain hang-up over that one specific something was haunting me that day. In the midst of my struggle (“the struggle is (or, was) real,” and all of that), an individual who I previously valued as a personal and professional life guide could tell I was having none of it (whatever, “it,” actually was, of course). Without hesitation and with a bit of aggression, this individual looked at me and said, “Michael, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Let’s let that set for a moment:
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Imagine the meltdown that ensued following this declaration. It was both bitter and sweet, and has stuck with me like glitter on glue since the words left his mouth. You don’t know what you don’t know. It still gives me chills.
For those who know me well, it comes to no surprise to you when I note that I severely dislike surprises (“severely,” is an understatement). And more so, I really don’t like not having a plan. Structure is essential for me, and processing a thought like, You don’t know what you don’t know, is haunting, to say the least. And finally, I’ll admit, I have a hang-up about the unknown. While I thrive on adventure and newness, I like the control involved in knowing. So, when one throws a proverbial wrench into my brain related to not knowing x2, it sticks to me.
Last summer, I went back to Midwest City, Oklahoma to celebrate my 10-years-ago-we-graduated reunion with my high school class. Briefly, I want to pull a piece from my post last summer, “’Hi. I’m Michael, and I survived my high school reunion:’”
Without projecting my own experience upon others as a norm, I conclude my reunion-reflection with a realization discovered while filling out my “where are you now,” questionnaire offered at each of the events. “What is one thing you wish you would have known when you were in high school?” This question fell between, “Who do you still talk to from high school?” and, “Tell us about your family,” and has since resonated with me. My answer was brief and simple…
“I didn’t know it all.”
That was relevant for high school-Michael, and it is certainly relevant now. I’m embracing this. I’m celebrating this. I’m giving myself a break, and I hope the same for you. I didn’t know it all. And I still don’t. And that’s absolutely okay.
So, Why the long narrative and multi-story post, you might be wondering? I say all of this to, 1. honor my friend who is currently in their own ‘not knowing what they don’t know,’ and 2. because I, too, need to pause and remember these principles.
There are people who still cautiously ask me, “So, where are you these days?” As if, living in Indiana, China, Oklahoma, and DC all in a 12-month span is not confusing and unknown. As if, reflecting on a high school reunion one year later is not scary and nostalgic. As if, risk is a magnet and our decisions are its antithesis. If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a dreamer. I’m constantly writing down ideas, and thinking and reflecting, and hoping and aiming. It’s part of my everyday routine. It’s madness. And because of this fluid mindset, I have lived a life of taking chances and risks and leaps of [faith?]. Furthermore, I have discovered a lot of this processing is as a result of living simply unsure.
And, unsure isn’t wrong. Unsure isn’t lost. And what you don’t know isn’t a fault of your own. Rather, what you don’t know impacts your energy and zest to discover, unearth, and explore. To know. Eventually.
And this is the advice I left on my friend who I mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this piece. Risk is the most terrifying and the most liberating feeling. And, at the core, you discover your what by trying. Doing. Making moves and quitting jobs. Taking jobs. Asking for help. Confronting people. Saying yes. No. I don’t know.
I had a friend recently ask me where I was living and working and traveling these days.
All I could think to say was, “I’m out here, climbing and exploring Mt. Wanderlust.”
Will you climb with me?