Not Knowing is Okay.

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“Brilliance in a scientist does not consist in being right more often but in being wrong about more interesting topics.”

We love to be right. And we all think we’re right, all the time. You can see this in Facebook comments and endless Twitter debates. People on the Internet will argue for days about politics, religion, or anything and everything else.

These online conversations seem to expose something about the human condition: we don’t like to be wrong. Someone telling us we are wrong about something is taken as a personal attack rather than just part of a conversation. 

There are plenty of reasons why we love to be right. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we’ve won or like we’re better than someone else intellectually.

Being right feeds our ego. And our ego never has an empty stomach so we just keep feeding it.

Being wrong, on the other hand, can make us feel insecure. Uncertainty is scary. Not knowing can make us feel lost or confused.

But what if being right isn’t all that? What if being wrong sometimes is okay? What if being wrong is actually a good thing?

Let’s do our best to look at being right from an objective standpoint. Let’s say you’re in a meeting and you’re discussing your company’s plans for a new hotel. You have the idea to build the hotel on a certain street, but one of your colleagues argues that that particular area of the city is not in high demand for a new hotel. You continue to go back and forth about the matter until you all come to an agreement.

What really matters in this situation? Does it matter whose idea is the right one? No, it matters which location would most benefit the company.

Point being: it’s okay to be wrong or to not know. It’s okay to submit and say “yeah, maybe you can do it better”or “you’re right your idea might be more effective.”

Being right is not important. Having the answer it not important. Doing the thing that is right (whether a moral decision or a practical one) is the most important thing.

Yes, being right feels good, but objectively it just doesn’t matter in most situations. Your goal should not be to be right, rather it should be to find out the best way to do a task and use those means in doing so.

Growing up going to Christian school I was taught to believe certain things. I was not to question these beliefs or ask questions, I was to simply believe. I was taught to have faith. During chapel services the pastor would often ask “if you died today do you know for sure that’s you’d go to heaven?”

While I tried to convince myself that my answer to his question was yes, I always had this thought process going on. How am I supposed to know for sure? Is God supposed to reveal it to me or appear in a dream or a bush on fire or something? 

As I was thinking about this I’d look around the room, wondering if anyone else felt the same way. While I never had the guts to ask, my assumption is that many of the kids in the room felt the exact same way, they, like myself, we’re just scared to admit it. They, like me, felt uncertain, yet we all acted like we knew our soul’s destination.

We all fear the unknown. We love to pretend like we have the answers. Having the answers is comfy and makes us feel good. Doubt feels nasty and annoying. But what if not knowing for sure was okay too? What if asking questions and not having answers was just another part of life?

This applies to all areas of the human experience, not just religious belief. Doubt is a virtue. Not knowing is powerful. If we never have doubts or ask questions, we will never learn or grow. Change begins with doubt. Change begins when we ask if there’s a better way to do something. If we never doubt, or never think we are wrong about something, we will never improve.

If we want to be successful at anything, we must be a student first. A student does not go into a class already knowing the material, a student goes into a class with humility knowing that the teacher is superior to them in the subject matter. For us to improve in life we must admit that we are not gods, there are things we must take the time to learn. There are things we don’t know or understand. When we learn to think in this way, to walk in humility and curious doubt, we can then begin to change and become the best versions of ourselves.

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Stop Trying to be Remembered

“The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.”
Criss Jami

We all want to be somebody. We all want the cool job title. When someone asks us what we do for a career we want to say: I’m a writer, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m the head of a Fortune 500 Company, I’m [fill in the blank].

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be somebody, but when wanting to be somebody i.e. (wanting recognition and praise) becomes more important than the actual work we do, there is a terrible problem. When our personal reputation is more important to us than our work itself, our work will suffer.

If we let out reputation take a front seat, everything we do will become a sort of image control. We’ll stop caring so much about how our work impacts others or makes the world better, and start to only care about the way it makes us look.

So many of us want the attention, the recognition, or the fame but we care little about the work itself. We just want to feel important but we don’t really want our work to be important.

We all have a choice. We can choose to chase fame, wanting to be noticed and given attention, or we can choose to be influential, where the things we do, whether we get acknowledgment for them or not, actually make an impact on society.

This choice does not only apply to those who are in the public light. It is not only for politicians and professional musicians. It applies to all of us. No matter how public our life is or how important our work is, we all have the same choice to make.

Fame or influence

Being or doing

Recognition or impact

When I was young I attended church fairly often. There we many occasions when the pastor would ask the question “what do you want to be remembered for?” At the time I thought it was a good question. But now I’m having second thoughts.

The intention behind the question is good. It is meant to make you reconsider the way you are living in light of how people will remember you when you are dead and gone. But what if we could as the same type of question, but in a better more useful way?

How about… what kind of influence do you want to have in your life?

This question may seem the same on the surface but it is really quite different. The question the pastor asked was very self-centered, what do you want people to remember you for? It is essentially a question about reputation.

My question, on the other hand, is a question based on action and accomplishment. What kind of influence do you want to have? How will your actions impact your community?

It doesn’t matter what people remember you for, you’re going to be dead anyways. What matters is doing something that changes people. Doing something that will make the world better, even if it’s something that seems small and insignificant.

This desire to be influential should not be driven by ego either. You shouldn’t want to do things that have a positive influence because it will make you seem important, you should do so because the work is important.

Are you willing to risk your reputation for the sake of your work? Are you willing to stop chasing fame so that you can be truly influential?

If so, let’s keep the conversation going in the comments!