I was a geek in school. Glasses, book smarts, quiet, never broke a rule- I fit the stereotype with flying colors.
And while some people probably wished they were me, they didn't know that I lived with the terrible fear every day of not knowing the answers. What if the teacher called on me in front of the whole class, and I just froze? What if someone saw that I had missed more questions than I would have liked?
My stomach was in knots most days.
I looked forward to coming home from school and just being able to breathe. At home, I was just “Tammy.” Not “Tammy the Nerd.” I was fair game for being picked on, laughed at, and getting in trouble- just like everyone else in our home.
Fast forward to my first job after college when I was finally using what I had gone to school for: working with families.
My first client was the child of a pretty predominant person in our community. And I was intimidated beyond belief. My first task was just to play with her and let her get familiar with me- all while her father and my boss looked on. No pressure there.
I'll never forget the words my boss told me that day, “You know more than you think you know.”
I chanted it over and over to myself during the next half hour. My hands trembled. My voice quivered. And as usual, my athletic skills stunk. LOL.
Later, there was another incident where I felt like a complete buffoon.
One of the children I was working with had recently been diagnosed with a rare condition. As the parent started to tell me about it, I started to panic. I didn't know anything about that condition. I was supposed to be the professional with all of the answers here.
The mother asked me, “Have you heard of _______________?”
“Oh yeah,” I casually replied. She was impressed.
And I thought, ‘Gee, I just set myself up.” I didn't want her to think I was stupid. I didn't want her to think that I couldn't help her son. (I did go home and started researching everything I could about it, though.)
Soon, I found out that I had things backwards.
The sign of a real professional is someone who isn't afraid to say, “I'm not familiar with that. Can you tell me more?”
Now, I'm totally at ease saying, “I don't know.”
Truth be told, it's relieving to not have to know all of the answers. It's nice to learn from others. It's great to not feel guilty for not doing one more thing that I feel like I should be doing in my life.
You Don't Have to Know It All Either
It's OK to not know it all.
The pressure to have all of the answers is awful. It can add a tremendous amount of stress to your life. Not to mention, it keeps you from the one thing that does give you answers and does take away your stress: OTHERS.
Being connected is one of the biggest ways to combat stress- and even depression. Reaching out to others helps to lower your cortisol levels (aka stress hormones that keep your mind and body revved up in case of an unexpected tiger attack). Connection to others restores your faith that you're not the only one out there who feels that way (or who doesn't know).
The next time you feel the pressure of having to know all of the answers, I'd like to invite you to take a step back and to ask yourself:
- Why do you feel like you should know this?
- What would happen if you asked for help?
- What would happen if you let go of the pressure to know this already?
Hopefully, you'll be able to release some of that pressure on yourself. And better yet, hopefully you'll be able to have a wonderful experience talking with someone else. Either they will tell you that they, too, have felt the same way (and they have no clue), or you'll come away with new ideas to try.
Either way, you can't lose! You just have peace of mind to gain!