Digging deep into “I don’t know”

“I don’t know.”

Those words carry so many meanings.  And often, so much judgement.  Judgement because the moment we utter them, we feel totally inadequate, unprepared, and often, just dumb.  Because we should know… shouldn’t we?

Let’s set aside facts – meaning, I’m not talking about the fact that I don’t know how build a clock out of a potato, I will probably never know, and I’m perfectly fine if you choose to judge me on my lack of potato-clock-building skills.  Really, I am.

I’m talking about the “I don’t know” that relates to how we feel, what we want, and decision-making around the best possible path for getting there.  And that does seem like the easiest thing to know, right?  Here’s how it plays out for me:

How do I feel?  Fine, I guess.

What do I want? To be happy.

What am I going to do to create that for myself?  Haven’t a freaking clue.

And the moment I realize that I don’t know, I go back to, “How do I feel?”  Do I really feel fine?  What does “fine” mean?  Ask any man and ask any woman… so many brilliant shades of grey to the word “fine”. 

What am I really feeling? Actually… not so fine. Life has been pretty messy lately and it’s got me all knotted up with sadness, fear, a dollop of anger, quite a bit of determination, and oddly, a dash of optimism.  How on earth do I reconcile all that?

And while I can stand by my second answer, “I want to be happy,” that really doesn’t say anything.  What are the building blocks to my happiness? So, again I dig a little deeper. Happiness for me is:

  • The health and well-being of my family. That’s a biggie.
  • Having caring, trustworthy, smart and funny people in my life. Incredibly important. Especially with my true definition of “fine”!
  • Feeling challenged, productive, and like I’m moving forward in my career. It’s how I spend my waking hours, after all.
  • Making time to really know, explore an enjoy the things that bring my life joy, excitement and new ideas. Thus my optimism and energy… there is goodness despite the messiness.
  • The unconditional love and comfort of my zoo. If you know me, you know I have a zoo. And yes, they are important to me and part of what makes me happy.

That list gives me something to work with.  But now it starts to get complicated.  I am responsible for my own happiness. And when I look at that list above, just how much of it can I manage or control to ensure my happiness?

  • Ensuring the well-being of my kids, my parents, my small extended family… I wish it and cheer for it, but I can’t control it. They make their own decisions. I am here to support them and love them through whatever that brings.
  • Surrounding myself with people who share my desire to explore the world with an open mind and a (sometimes questionable) sense of humor, who value and return my loyalty and trust… well, I’ve found that to be difficult to create and even more difficult to maintain. People are complicated. They don’t always want what you want.
  • Pursuing challenging and interesting career opportunities… yes, I’ve always been proactive about this and it has on occasion landed me in positions more challenging than rewarding. Got to figure out how to get smarter at that.
  • Making time for me, for my own passion of pursuing self-awareness, global exploration, and sharing that with others, has been the first thing that goes on the backburner when my relationships are like a hot oil fire and my job is grinding weekly migraines into my skull. And yet, that’s when I need it the most, isn’t it? Prioritizing isn’t so easy.
  • My zoo… yeah, that one is a bit on me. But taking care of them, spending time playing with them, that rolls up a bit in the previous point – taking care of them *is* taking care of me. And the good thing about them is, no matter my mood, they are my responsibility. My inescapable source of joy. That’s kind of cool.

But when I get to the question, “What am I going to do about it – about creating my own happiness?”  The truth is, I don’t know.

The Buddhist answer, the one I gravitate towards and understand, is that you must let it go. Let go of control and learn to enjoy what is present, what is in life in this moment.  The good, the bad, the ugly, the complicated, the gorgeous and most of all, the totally-out-of-your-control.

Oh, so much easier said than done!  Understanding this concept logically is different from actually living it. I can understand all the body parts and all the steps involved in removing your appendix. I’ve seen those real-life surgeon shows on TV. But reading the biology textbook and watching the video doesn’t mean I can actually remove an appendix. Trust me.  You don’t want that. I can’t even build the potato clock, remember?

A big part of getting comfortable with the lack of control over the different things in my life that contribute to my happiness is, in fact, getting comfortable with my first answer, “I don’t know.” And then digging deep into it.

Because we don’t always know. Sometimes the digging deeper to find our answers is a bit of a rough journey, and we need to pace ourselves.  It means getting dirty. Sometimes digger deeper churns up aspects of ourselves we don’t like. Sometimes it unburies parts of who we really are. And then we need time to process what we’re learning, to determine which answers really fit where we are in our lives today and what answers need re-evaluation.  Maybe they need utter destruction.

In my case, there is an awful lot of uncovering that needs re-exposure to sunlight and love.

But it’s different for all of us. However, the energy and attitude we bring to this exploration, to digging deep into the trite answers we give others – and we give ourselves – can make all the difference in what you learn about yourself.

Where does your “I don’t know” lead you?

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Showing 2 comments
  • Julie

    Natalie. I’m so In sync with much of what you are saying in this commentary. I constantly dig deeper. Look at every angle. Sometimes moving in constant circles. All different analogies. All not really explaining or helping me to understand where the Hell I am or where I might possibly be going tomorrow. I dream. Recently almost nightly. That’s all I can share tight now. Maybe I’ll come back to reveal more. Not sure. I’m so damn confident in my day world. Exuding confidence & reassurance to friends & family. Right now I’m shaking my head saying, “How crazy am I to give & shower positive vibes when I’m drowning over here..”

    • Natalie Hahn

      You’re not crazy at all, Julie. So often we have a veneer that we show to the world – and often, there are elements of truth to that veneer… you ARE confident, you ARE positive, you ARE doing just fine… but in our quiet moments, the gremlins pop in and we can’t hide from them. It takes practice to be vulnerable with those in your day time hours to say, “you know, I AM fine but I am also feeling lost… or sad… or unsure…” It takes practice because we think it’s a risk and because we think it’s our job to make sure everyone else feels comfortable. Instead, we’re withholding the gift of making a true connection.

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