In my world, I no longer get to say I don’t know. If I try to, the standard come back from any coach I’m working with will inevitably be, “What if you did know?”
At first it was a maddening mind game for me, but now I’ve come to expect this response. I don’t always catch myself and every now and then I still slip up and say it. I’ve also come to appreciate the requirement to find my answers.
Because “I don’t know” is not an answer. It never has been and it never will be. “I don’t know” is like waving a white flag of uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds indecision – a classic dream killer.
As outlined in “What’s Your Excuse?”, not knowing is the third most common reason for not moving forward and admitting failure before you even try. There are so many ways to crush this excuse but so often we don’t. Do you know why?
It’s easier not to.
Somewhere along the road to growing up, so many of us lost our ability to be inquisitive and to try new things. I’m not talking about trying escargot, people (something I still need to do, by the way). I mean the big, scary things that seem so impossible to achieve right now. The things your future self could look back on and laugh about all the reasons why you were once afraid to try.
Things like leaving the comfort zone of your current career and changing it up entirely. Leaving your steady and secure job to start your own business. Moving across the country or better yet, to entirely different country where you know no one and may not even speak the language. Dropping out of university to chase what sparks your soul. Big, scary things!
We are far more likely to tackle the unknown when we are young. Indeed, the university drop outs are typically in their twenties. But let’s go back even further. This example has been used in countless ways, yet it remains a crucial reminder and so I call upon it often for myself.
What if babies were afraid to learn how to walk? After all, they’ve never done it before. When they first try, they don’t even have the muscle strength to stand without assistance. Still, they keep at it, day by day, step by painful step. At first, they fall after just a couple of steps. Sometimes they fall hard. It’s ridiculous! It’s comical. Sometimes we laugh at their fails, because it’s cute. And also because we know they’ll eventually figure it out. They fail over and over again, and they keep at it. Why? Why not just give up and think ‘this walking gig is not for me’?
Because everyone around them is walking and they innately know that there’s a way to figure this out.
How about learning to play an instrument? When I was in junior high, I wanted to join the band. I wanted to learn to play the clarinet, but I was attending a small rural school that didn’t have a bank of instruments to loan. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me a clarinet. My older cousin happened to own a flute that was tucked away in her closet, and so a flute is what it would be for me if I wanted to participate in band.
I can’t tell you how painful it was for me to learn to read music. Or how painful it was for my family to hear me struggle with Mary Had A Little Lamb for weeks on end. Eventually, I figured it out. Of course, repetition is key to learning and mastering things like music, language, and dance routines. Along my path, I discovered I rather enjoyed playing the flute as I watched my friends deal with breaking in reeds on their clarinets. All I had to do was show up and play. I continued to hone my skills and I didn’t stop until I reached first chair in high school.
What if I had just thrown it all down during the excruciatingly painful process of learning Mary Had A Little Lamb? What if I didn’t even try because I didn’t get the clarinet that I wanted? I would have missed out on that entire experience. The parades, the football games, and the concerts. I would have just sat at home in my room admiring my Bon Jovi posters while my friends were out making memories.
What do you do when it’s not all laid out for you like sheet music or observing those around you?
Chances are, someone somewhere has already done the thing that you want to do. Find those people. Immerse yourself in their world. Ask questions. Be annoying if you have to – so what? Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our heads worried about what other people might think of us that we sell ourselves short and fail to even scratch the surface of our capabilities.
By the way, “so what?” is another fantastic question to challenge your brain with when it presents all of the worst case scenarios to you.
In the primary post that I’ve linked to, I explain the motivational triad that we all come to this life programmed with: seek pleasure, avoid pain, conserve your energy. Your primitive brain is going to want to keep you safe in the cave and that’s the voice in your head that says ‘no, no, don’t do that – you’ll embarrass yourself; you will fall, you will fail, others will laugh.’
When that inner voice surfaces in response to something you really want (that thing that sparks your soul), that’s when you absolutely must say, “so what?”
What if I fall? I must have fallen a hundred times as a baby when I was learning to walk.
What if I fail? I hit a bad note on my flute solo that everyone (including myself) forgot about five minutes after it happened.
What if I’m laughed out of the room? A temporary moment of discomfort on the path to a long term reward.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the two wolves that reside within you. One is the wolf that wants to keep you safe and secure. This one shows up with that taunting inner voice. The other is the one that wants you to take a risk, to take a chance, and to be authentically you. Which one will you feed?
What if you knew what to do? The inner voice that you really need to hear is one that will present itself when you sit quietly and ask. Listen. Really listen. As several of my teachers advise, you will know which voice to hear by observing the sensations in your body. Is the resulting sensation constrictive (signaling ‘don’t do this’) or expansive (signaling ‘freaking go for it’)?
Seriously, when you quiet all of the noise around you, I promise you can tap into this source energy.
“You are your own greatest teacher. Learn to trust your internal source of wisdom.” – Tamara Levitt
What if you did know?
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