“I don’t know.”

These words are powerful.

Do you feel emotion around these words?  What does it feel like for you to say these words? To your boss? Your spouse? A client? Your friend?  Your children?

What does it feel like when you hear these words spoken to you? Does the emotion feel stronger for one of the above examples than for another?

Sit in that emotion for just a minute.

I mean it – stop reading for a few minutes and dig in. Do some honest analysis of why you feel the way you do about this little phrase.


It might not be the same for you – but I find that when I dig in to this little phrase, I feel the pressure of expectations.

I feel that pressure in the form of anxiety.
I’m an adult, I “should” know. I mean, I’m smart, right?

I feel that pressure in the form of fear.
I’m their mom, I “should” know.  It’s my job to make the best decision for them.

Sometimes, I feel that pressure in the form of shame.
I have not been living under a rock, I “should” know.  How on earth did I miss that?

Why do we feel such pressure to “know?” I mean, definitively know. And, further than that, to definitively know everything.

I don’t believe it is the expectation of those around us that we know everything.  It would be quite an unrealistic expectation if that were the case. I am a big proponent of a growth mindset, but as the term denotes, it requires ongoing growth to obtain knowledge. There is a learning curve and I, for one, can appreciate those who recognize where they are in the process. Fact finding and weighing those against our personal world view is a vital piece in determining our position on a subject.  New information can (and sometimes should) alter that stance.

So if it is not the expectation of others that we definitively know everything, whose expectation is it?


“I don’t know.”

These words are vulnerable.

How do you feel about vulnerability? I will be honest that it is not my favorite thing. It was not until I did some reading and a researcher by the name of Brene Brown was able to teach me that vulnerability could exist independently of shame.  I wasn’t even aware that I felt shame in vulnerability until it was explained to me.

But I do.

And disrupting this link is key for me to be able to be more comfortable with these words.  And to discover their power.

“I don’t know.”

Whether it is professionally, relationally, or with our kiddos, I have been finding that these three little words can be disarming when used mindfully.

Disarming in the sense of allaying the hostility or suspicions in the way one might remove a fuse from a bomb, making it safe. (Thank you, Webster.)

Safe.  I can honestly say that I have never associated vulnerability with safe-ness either.


For me, usually the most effective version of the phrase “I don’t know” is followed up with another small and mighty word.  The word “but.”

“But” is a word that can be used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. (What would I do without you, Webster?!) In short, this little word can carry hope in the form of its ability to conjoin.

I don’t know.
But I am going to do my best to find out.

I don’t know.
But, I am working on a solution.

I don’t know.
But, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

A fancier version of this same word is “nevertheless.” It adds a semi-colon where there might have once been a period.  It diffuses by way of hope.  It continues the conversation through conjunction.  And it creates a safe space that still allows for challenge and growth.

This last year has been full of “I don’t knows” for me.  Maybe you can relate.

I have found hope in the “buts,” though.  I appreciate those who have the courage to say “I don’t know” and to follow it up with a “but.”  It feels honest.  It fosters hope and it continues the conversation.

We are all just doing our best.  And even the experts have to be first-timers at something.  Give grace and create space for them to promote honest conversation because that should be our expectation.

i don't know

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Rochelle is a desert-rat from Arizona who kept moving north until she hit Colorado Springs; good luck getting her to leave now. She wasted no time snagging her husband under the pretense of athleticism and outdoorsy-ness. Among other things, eleven years of marriage has yielded two beautiful daughters, Harper and Quinn. Momming these super-sassy littles is her biggest adventure yet, and provides for some serious writing material. Rochelle works out of the home also, and has a diverse background in public relations, social work, student advising, youth ministry and pyrotechnics. She is presently finishing up her MBA and is juggling all of it fairly well for a person with little to no hand-eye-coordination. She is a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child and she is beyond grateful for hers.