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You Don’t Have to Know Everything

My heart breaks every time my daughter panics when she has an upcoming exam. She spends hours and hours studying and preparing. I commend her commitment to excellence and feel sad when she breaks down into tears if she doesn’t know the answer to a question. I can relate to her struggle because I have lived it myself.

While watching my daughter struggle with her college courses, I reflect on my time in college. I remember having similar experiences. I recall the feeling of having to know everything – even though I was in class to learn new things. That pressure followed me into my early years as a clinical social worker. I would spend time with my clinical supervisor exploring how worried I was when I didn’t know the “right” thing to say, or when I didn’t have the answers to my client’s questions. I was very fortunate to have an experienced supervisor who challenged my need to have all the answers.

“It is OK if you don’t know everything,” she would say to me. She reassured me that acknowledging that I may not have all the answers can bring a level of humility and humanity to my interactions. Further, she reminded me, it is unrealistic to expect that someone knows everything or has all the answers. Conversely, when one suggests that they have all the answers or is “all-knowing”, it can lead to suspicion about what they have said.

With my supervisor’s support, reassurance and encouragement, I began allowing myself to acknowledge that I didn’t know all the answers. As I gained experience in that uncomfortable place, I started to realize that my clients, my colleagues and my acquaintances appreciated that I recognized that I didn’t know everything – but I could find out. Further, that honest revelation opened an opportunity to brainstorm creative ideas, or to research and learn new things.

Some Lessons Learned:

  1. Find a good mentor. Having someone you trust that has more experience can help you navigate the unknown. Knowing that there is someone to turn to when you are unsure which way to go can ease anxiety associated with that unknown.
  2. Be a life-long learner. Lean into not knowing. Develop a ravenous appetite for learning new things. When seeking information or training about something new generates excitement, the anxiety about not knowing is replaced.
  3. Practice. The more you can push yourself into new and unchartered territories, the more opportunities you will get. The more opportunities you find to develop yourself, the more confident you will become in change.
  4. Be kind. Be kind to yourself as you stretch and learn. Give yourself time to learn and develop ability in a new thing. Find ways to put new behaviors into constant and regular practice.
  5. Be patient. Learning anything new to the level of excellence takes hours of purposeful practice. Keep track of incremental achievements and don’t expect too much too fast.

Being in a space of not knowing can feel uncomfortable. With experience and practice, one can learn to embrace opportunity. Take a chance to discover the unknown. Make a choice to embrace the opportunity. Allow yourself time to learn. Give yourself permission to practice. Celebrate your achievements and incorporate them into you day-to-day.

You don’t have to know everything. You just must be open to learning and willing to try.

Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops. 

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