You're Allowed Not to Know Something

I don’t know. Uttering those three words can strike a great deal of fear in some people, especially if it is in the context of a job interview or an important discussion with a supervisor at work. This can also come up during social situations, like cocktail parties, where you are trying to impress the people you are meeting. You want them to see you in a positive light.

That much is understandable and that’s why you may be hesitant to acknowledge your lack of knowledge in a particular area. Are you not keeping up with current events? Are you not as familiar with some important literature or basic world history?

You have to come to the realization that you will never know everything. You have to acknowledge your inherent ignorance in certain areas, turning your attention to others for help when you need it. Yes, you should still avoid collective misunderstandings and you should still think for yourself first and foremost, but you also have to accept the fact that you are allowed not to know something. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

But that’s not where it stops.

Yes, it is acceptable not to know something, but then it is up to you to do something about it. If you find yourself at a cocktail party where people are discussing a subject of interest to you, but your level of knowledge is nowhere near your conversation companions, this is your opportunity to take action and soak in the information.

Learn from them. Take on the curious perspective and open mind of a child. That wide-eyed wonder can lead you to many interesting factoids that you can then share with other friends and colleagues. Knowledge is power, to be sure, but you have to take it upon yourself to empower yourself. The onus is on you.

Someone once said that it is better to keep your mouth shut and look the fool than it is to open your mouth and remove all doubt. I come across so many people who are trying to sound smarter and more knowledgeable than they really are. The net result is not the appearance of intellect. Instead, they look even more ignorant and foolish by spouting misconceptions and incorrect “facts” about the topic at hand. You are better off asking questions than demonstrating a clear lack of knowledge.

It’s okay not to know something. It’s not okay, however, to leave it at that. Go out there and learn.