There’s something about knowing that we associate deeply with competence, confidence and professionalism.

We turn to teachers because we want to know what they know.
We follow leaders because we believe they know where they’re going.
We give the work to those who know what they’re doing.

We believe that our value, our professionalism, our expertise exists in what we know.
We are valued for what we know. We contribute what we know.

So what happens when we don’t know?

When the path that lies ahead is uncertain, untrodden, unexplored?

When we don’t know, we tell ourselves that something’s gone horribly wrong.
We become imposters, waiting to be found out.
We’re terrified to ask for help, because we believe we should know what we’re doing.
We feel the guilt of letting others down, because they trusted us to know.

In these situations we flounder, we feel exposed, unqualified.

And yet…

When our job is to discover, to build, to create, to develop, then surely it’s in the job description to go beyond what we know, and step into the unknown?

When our goal is to learn, surely it’s not knowing that feeds our curiosity and signals “here lies the treasure you seek”?

Those butterflies in your stomach – what if they’re a good sign? An invitation to excitement rather than fear, a signal for adventure rather than foreboding?

Somewhere along the line we’ve mistaken certainty with confidence.

We’ve learnt to see unknowing as a sign that we’re out of our depth, that we can’t cope.

We think knowing qualifies us and keeps us safe. But it also keeps us stagnant. Curiosity, creativity and change cannot exist without unknowing.

Is the more capable person the one who never struggles or the one who knows how to struggle well? The one who faces struggle with vulnerability, courage and a willingness to learn, to fall, to screw up, to get up, to keep on showing up?

Great professionals know what they don’t know. Dangerous health professionals are the ones who think they know it all. A confident driver is one who recognises the unpredictability of other drivers and road conditions. A dangerous driver is the one who thinks they are fully in control.

And when we’re afraid of showing our unknowing because we don’t want to let others down? Turns out owning our unknowing is the very thing that builds trust:

“We asked a thousand leaders… what do your team members do that earns your trust? The most common answer: asking for help. When it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help. Mind. Blown.”
– Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Perhaps that’s why, when the disciples ask Jesus a question of position “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus replies with an answer of posture, encouraging us to “dramatically change [our] way of thinking and become teachable, like a little child” (Matthew 18:3 TPT).

Because it’s when we don’t know that we’re most likely to seek, listen, explore and learn.

It’s only when we stop relying on what we know – when we stop leaning on our own understanding, as Proverbs 3 goes, that we trust in the Lord with all our heart.

And we become open to what’s possible, new and surprising.

Whether that’s Moses stepping closer to see what was going on with that burning bush – or Mary, Zachariah or Nicodemus asking “How can this be?” – we can be encouraged that what followed next was an encounter with God.

The truth is, we’re all on the brink of unknown territory. We live in an age of change, where uncertainty is the new normal, and the leaders we need around us – the leaders we need to be – are those who are willing to leave the safety of the known and figure out how to live, work and lead in this new world we’re getting to know.

Grace Marshall
Adapted from an excerpt of her book “Struggle