Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

We Don’t Need to Know Before We Go

One of the cool things about artists is that they often start their pieces (and I’m defining artist in the broadest possible way) before they know where they are going.

Not all artists perhaps, but the ones I want to emulate—poets, writers, painters, and sand castle-at-the-water’s-edge makers.

They may have an intention, a direction but then they find their way. They don’t have to know to start. They may fail, of course, and they end up creating a new future.

The blank page can be terrifying, as is the start of a meeting that hasn’t been 100% orchestrated. But both can be alive with possibility—and ready to reward us for our steps into the unknown.

Having to know before you go

On the other hand, in a lot of settings, we’re expected to know how things will work out before we even begin to create. And that “having-to-know-ness” can take the spark out of our endeavors, our meetings, or the projects we don’t end up even starting.

I get it. I’m a recovering know-aholic—working to break the addiction to needing to know before I go.

A lot of my success in school and later in work was tied to knowing things. And knowing still has many positive virtues (I like it when my surgeons know what they are doing). But because our cultural addiction to knowing is so pervasive, we may not see how little permission we give ourselves to go off-leash, play with others, create totally new options, and not have to know how it’s all going to work—before we start.

I recently read The Overweight Brain by Dr. Lois Holzman and I interviewed her on my podcast. She has a lot to say about “Not-Knowing Growing.” And I recommend both the podcast and her book or her brilliant advice column The Developmentalist.

I think the practice of “not-knowing-growing” has a lot to offer a world in great transition.

When meetings are burdened by knowing

How many meetings have you gone to that were dead on arrival? No spark. No original ideas. No reward for the time invested.

Maybe part of the problem was that these meetings were weighted by the curse of having to know, where, for example:

We don’t explore and challenge assumptions.
We keep each other stuck in roles.
We limit our ability to improvise, try on ideas, fail, and improve.
We want to know “who’s right” rather than building on each other’s contributions.
We forget the power of laughter and occasional goofiness.
We stick to our minds and ignore that we have bodies and emotions.
We (often) know the outcome of a conversation or meeting before we have begun—and it’s not usually that great.

We could approach such meetings differently if we’d enter them through the gates of curiosity and wonder—like an artist standing before a blank canvas. We’d find permission to play, laugh, and challenge assumptions. We’d build on the power of each other’s suggestions, like the great improvisational artists we innately are. We’d create ideas, develop initiatives and feel inspired to meet again.

An alternative to knowing

Living with the unknown can be scary—but it seems so critical to creating a new world.

We need the capacity that artists have to stand before the blank page, canvas, or stretch of sand at the beach— as a kind of inner preparation for the future.

We don’t have to do away with what we know, but we don’t have to be limited by it as we allow ourselves to grow with others who share the courage to not know.

2 Responses

  1. I am addicted to knowing, except when I am making art.
    Even when I think I know what a given work is going to become, the vast majority of the time it turns out very differently from what I thought my intention had been. It’s the continuous surprises during the process of creating a piece (in my case, artist books) that make the activity and its result worth the effort. I am going to try to not know in other aspects of my life (actually I don’t know all the time, I need to learn how to embrace it better). Thanks again for your insights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »

Create Your Own Story! Get the Free Download

Live your life with more meaning, creativity and joy. And enjoy our free e-book to help you create the story you want to live.

You have Successfully Subscribed!