I Don't Know


  • ’I do not know’ is a phrase which becomes us.” –Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile: Or, Treatise on Education

Back to back school season starts this week as inquisitive minds open themselves to new experiences and perspectives. Getting ready not just for the year ahead, but life ahead. My tip is, not the first time I’ve shared it, don’t be afraid of “I don’t know’ as Leah Hager Cohen vividly shares in her article “The Courage to Say ‘I Don’t Know’” (thanks Aidan)

  • “’You know when you’re with people you want to impress, people you find a little intimidating? Maybe you’re feeling kind of dumb, like you don’t really belong with them. You’re worried you’ll be found out? And somebody mentions a writer or the title of a book in this tone like, ‘Naturally you know what I’m talking about.’ And even though you have no clue, you do that little thing where you narrow your eyes and purse your lips and give this thoughtful nod.’ By now some of the students are grinning; a few nod their own heads knowingly. ‘You know what Mary does in that situation?’ They’re quiet, alert. ‘She says, ‘I don’t know that book.’ She says, ‘I’ve never heard of that person you named.’”

One caveat I would add, in the context of the spectrum of “failure”, don’t let “I don’t know” mean “I didn’t try” or “I didn’t do the work.” Those are not failures to be embraced.