Embracing “I Don’t Know”

After being out of college for a few years, I decided I wanted to go back for my Masters. I applied in the winter, began classes this past winter and my life completely changed.

I started waking up earlier so I could have 20 minutes of ‘me time’ in the morning (I think everyone, no matter how busy you are, should take at least a small portion of every day to do something you love), I would study in my car over lunch at work and would stay up late into the night reading or writing. It’s exhausting but worth it.


About a month after school started, someone asked me why I went back to school and pretty soon after, I felt like anytime I had a conversation with someone new or who I haven’t seen in a while, the same questions were asked.

Why did you go back to school?

What do you want to do with your degree?

What do you want to do?

What’s wrong with your current job?

Do you have any idea what you want to do?

What’s your dream job?

I remember being in college thinking how I couldn’t wait to be a career woman so I didn’t have to put up with questions like these. Oh, if I would have known.

The pressure of knowing what you want to do, who you want to be and who you want to be with. The phrase, ‘I don’t know’ has the connotation that you’re unorganized and, dare I say, unambitious. Every time I answer one of the aforementioned questions with an ‘I don’t know’ I feel embarrassed as if not having a strict plan for the future is shameful, unprofessional and lazy.

I read Lean In recently and Sheryl Sandberg discussed the idea of a career being like a jungle gym, not a ladder. The generations before us, started working in an organization and then focused on career mobility within that company. Today, is different. People change organizations, titles, fields. For as many years as I’ve been out of school, I’ve worked in that many organizations and professions.

We should look at climbing the career jungle gym, moving up, sideways, diagonally, whatever fits best with our life and what we want at that point in time. I think it’s a brilliant metaphor but the ladder mentality is so engrained in society, it will take some time for the jungle gym to replace it in imagery.

In embracing the idea of career advancement as a jungle gym, wouldn’t ‘I don’t know’ be the best response to what do you want to do? It means you’re open to opportunities and changes that come along. You’re not pigeonholed to one particular dream.

Easier said than done (hence my reason for writing this, to convince myself) but I think it’s something we should think about because not knowing what the future holds, isn’t unambitious, it’s reality. To be open to what life throws your way, whatever people you meet and new opportunities, I think you’re already ahead of the game

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