‘I Don’t Know’ – Good Enough?

Two things I learned early on once I started attending school – –

  • Saying “I Don’t Know” isn’t safe
  • Your ‘best’ is never good enough

The Fallacy of “I Don’t Know”

I remember the first time a mentor said to me, at work, “Tamrah? It’s okay to say you don’t know”.

I was 27 years old and had been in workforce for 13 years.

To my mind, I HAD said I didn’t know – they considered my long winded reply of,

“Not sure how that can be done now, but thinking if we did this, then that info would be more quickly available and I’ve been playing with this tool and I think, if we do a merge between our database and this document, then we can have those stats and records available in one living document that updates each time we open it….”

Me, not answering the question by saying, “I don’t know “

Apparently, as in school, I was wasting everyone’s time by not just saying, “I don’t know” and was committing a grievous sin by not living up to my potential because, well, I SHOULD have known (because they think I’m smart) and I then had to pay the price of time via listening to the lecture about how my entire survival, future, ‘place in the world’ are ALL in question right about now – how I can’t let everyone else down and disappoint them, because I was too lazy to ‘know” and I SHOULD have been prepared and known, right then and there!

It’s my Dad’s fault….

When he asked a question of me, if I didn’t know, it was an ‘opportunity’ to share, educate, inspire, motivate – It wasn’t a trap so I could be humilated in front of God and everyone –

Thus, my dad, in all his faults, was, and still is, overall, in my mind, my first and best teacher. Ever!

Systems are in place to TRAIN people

For good or for ill….

First school, then various jobs held and bosses worked for, and customer services classes I was sent to as part of ‘staff annual in-service training’, and later, massive marketing and internet “anyone can say anything at any time” were all bent on ‘training’ me to make it not safe to say I don’t know or ask questions, etc.

All educated me very well to learn – “Never, ever, EVER! say you don’t know – offer something else, baffle them with bullshit, explain to them why they don’t need/want that, keep them happy and content the entire time you do such things, say it loud enough, often enough, strongly enough and every one will believe you.”

If you do such things wrong?

Well – trip to the principal’s office OR getting blessed out/chewed out by your boss in front of the customer and burn inside while the smug smile “I’m smarter than you and I got what I wanted” plays across the customer’s face….

It DOESN’t Matter that after the customer leaves, your boss, turns to you and says,

“That’s okay – they’re a jerk. Don’t worry about it” –

BUT I have to worry about it now

That total jerk of a customer is so damn happy they got what they wanted and got to watch the show about how powerful and influential person they are, they will just keep coming back and upping the stakes, every time!”

Or in the principal’s office – I was asked ‘what happened?’ and often – the answer after I replied was –

“Okay – sit out the period here – go to your next class and don’t worry about it”

And yet the teacher didn’t change – their demeanor didn’t change – how they treated me didn’t change – and though I didn’t darken the principal’s door very often in 13 years, I did make some trips there under pressure from those in charge and over and over heard the ‘don’t worry about it’ but nothing really changed….overall.

During which time, GOOD teachers resigned or moved elsewhere under pressure from the jerk citizens in the community – or the gossip mill, etc. Because it was just easier to move on that it was to stay and the one who ‘adjusted’ into ‘being allowed to stay’ went from being one of my favorite teachers to being just one more ‘brick in the wall” –

This Music Break from Commentary courtesy of Pink Floyd

And so, in so many ways, over so many years, I learned to do EVERYTHING I knew to do, except say “I don’t Know” and leave it at that.

I gave into the Bullies of Life – oh – so many times….

I learned to anticipate and try to head off problems later, by quick ‘well, just do this now” operations – someone else will figure out how to fix the inherent issues inherent in my need to keep my job by coming up with a 2.5 second answer to an ages long system problem…..

I learned to quietly spend my off hours coming up with solutions to solve problems no one but the workers who dealt with it everyday in operations, even knew existed, in hopes, someday, someone would give a shit, while every day, to earn my paycheck, I showed up and did what I was hired to do that actually, often, just made the problem worse by ‘solidifying’ it into ‘business as usual/I should be grateful to have a job/this is how it is.” echoed thoughts planted in my brain by others.

Whether allowed to ‘implement’ my solutions or not – didn’t matter – when the day dawned, in a meeting, where higher ups were demanding answers for ‘better’ or scratching their heads and wondering how to ‘increase productivity, lower costs’ etc., happened – I was PREPARED and I KNEW at least part of the issues and I would speak up and say, “One quick win to help see gains quickly would be – – ” and truck out what I knew.

With a tool or plan to make it happen.

And then my job was to counsel my co-workers on “okay – if you didn’t have to waste time on normalizing data, doing your job, compiling that report 3 days out of every week, what would you love to launch, build, do, during that time?”

OH! The wonderful and creative suggestions that came out of those talks! How I trucked off to meetings and presented them, with all the graph charts, stats, analysis of things and at the end of the day?

Too many in charge of decisions chose to say some version of

“So what you’re saying is, we pay you minimum wage, as a temp, to build this and we can lay you and 50 other people off once it’s launched, right? That will save our bottom line AND we can charge the customer MORE because we are so efficient and streamlined – this is green, too right?”

And I would successfully streamline myself out of a job, and I started working harder to NOT streamline others out of a job because I learned all I did was sign their death warrant.

But I got used to making myself obsolete as fast as possible, moving on to the next ‘job’ and well – I learned to not invest in much in any of them, OR if I DID, I knew my ‘cut bait’ point, red-flag warnings – –

Just like everything else in my daily world was becoming obsolete AND I also learned, over and over –

Good Enough is NEVER, (really) Good Enough

I also learned early on with reminder lessons most of my working life, your best that day is never good enough – if you show a natural affinity or talent for something, oh…the hoarding masses of humanity always just want MORE!

If you have a spectacular win of a day, where you saved the sinking ship or saved the company $238,000 for the coming year with stats to show the savings after the first week of a launch – not enough –

I sincerely don’t try to ‘rest on past laurels, but seriously, can I rest for a bit to recover from the huge push done on my entire being, to get this sucker launched? Is that possible?

I actually feel sorry for public figures – they have to be nice to the camera and news crews and figure every time they step outside of their secured compound, are seen or open their mouth – they MUST, no matter what, feed the “more! Better!” crowd.

But, in my earliest memories – Getting a report card with the ‘right’ grades that reflected my potential, just got harder and harder the more time went by and become less and less fun – enough was never enough and at some point?

I got mad and rebelled

Submit a book report? Not Good Enough –

I would get it back with a serious, “you’re in trouble look” with a harsh RED “B+”, with copius red comments all over it, and an associated lecture of

“You are better than this – rewrite, do the edit and resubmit for extra credit and I expect better from you next time”

From teachers who routinely passed over any extra effort, and to my mind, were complicit in the bullying of classmates who could barely read out loud at 5th grade level, even though we were in high school.

Teachers who often shoved me into ‘tutoring’ a class mate, for free, during study hall – yeah, I KNOW that sounds harsh – I have lots of teachers in my family/friends circle – but not one of my ‘peer tutoring’ operations that ‘counted’ were ever over my own, “Can I help?” efforts – they only ‘counted’ after I was shamed into helping –

Have Reading Month Contest hit the school? With prizes individually and for the class if we all read our books, submitted a paragraph about the book and our teacher expects our class to WIN! salesmanship from the motivational teacher?

Okay, I can do my part – I pulled out my fave books from 2-3 years ago, re-read them, did my submissions, made my list and submitted weekly.

I did what you wanted, right? Those books are on our ‘recommended reading list’ and these were the ones I liked and no hardship on me to re-read…..write up a short report on and fill out the log…..

Nope, Nothing doing!

I was somehow ‘cheating the system’ or failing someone because I simply did what they asked, according to their stated rules of the game – and in my world? Personally? Each title should have ‘counted’ for each time I HAD read it – for scores on books read, because, when we re-read our faves, don’t we just dive a little deeper and learn more?

Sigh – No – the fact I counted even once, that many durn books, that I HAD READ (re-read) that WERE IN MY AGE GROUP for reading – during that time frame, was a real problem, thus, I must be saved from the criminal lifestyle early and often – cuz I’m showing signs, already…..

(Which never happened but apparently they thought it was going too…..)

I had to pack up all the books from home library, haul them to school and do a private conference with teacher who picked a book at random, opened a page, read a few sentences and then said, “So, what was happening in the story just then?”

The same teacher who said, “don’t be disrespectful and just answer the question” when I said, “That character says that often – which time? Is it when [this happened]? or [this?] Let me see how far into the book you are because he says that more than once….”

Which may have not been disrespectful, but I reached for the book because it was sorta half and half visually and a lot happened in the middle of the book and physically, the book was half way opened……

(I wasn’t lying and the teacher gave up after book six or so and finally asked,

“What are you reading now?” and I said,

“Gone with the Wind – but I’m sorta sad about the war battles and the wounded and no food at Tara and Scarlett isn’t sure what she is going to do – so I set aside while I did this assignment”

I was in sixth grade. And was informed of the horrors of slavery and how I simply COULDN’T be reading THAT book because it was horrible and disrespectful and…well – I learned and remember a lot from that book – on human nature – what happens when you buck the system, stand up to the system, how you can lose your way and lose what it is most dear to you all while you figure out, what you did hold dear wasn’t really what you wanted/needed all those years –

I learned a lot from reading that book – and when politics and society seem to be running amok – I re-read that sucker in hopes, it centers me better and reminds me of just exactly what I’m gonna hitch my wagon to, why and what price I and my loved ones will pay if I choose wrong

And Then I Grew Up/Grew Old…

I’m still operating off my childish beliefs -and what I learned over the years from mentors older than I.

It’s still scary to say, “I don’t know” and leave it at that – period. No further information at all – no further attempt at discussing the issue – or looking for possible solutions – that still – is so hard for me –

I still get really angry with folks for whom, enough is never enough – whether they are asking more of me, or those I love, or demanding more from the world – I still get really fired up with anger because, I finally let the water shed of it all come out the moment I turned 50 years old.

Training – again – ’50 is a milestone’ thinking….

I officially became a self-labeled eccentric, mouthy, ole fart that believed I knew more (on this topic or that) than others based off the number of years I had managed to live…

Why? Because I NOW had my own wealth of experience to draw on and well – I was seeing a younger generation repeating the same mistakes of past generations and well – – shouldn’t I give them a book report on it? Just to be nice and try to save them from lost to the sands of time info?

But no, that’s not the real reason – the REAL reason is, I’ve often had friends older than me – most of my life – the older you get, the more they die and you discover, hmmm…I need to hang out with those younger than me if I don’t want to spend as much time grieving without fun times mixed in

I also, AGAIN, had been trained well – my friends who were forty or fifty when I was 20 would say (back then) “You’re too young to be dealing with these health problems” and once I was 40, 50, etc., they are 80 or more and when I say, in support, “Oh, yeah! my joints say a storm front is coming in – congratulations to us! We are our own barometer!” –

They would respond, “Well you’re a spring chicken, you’re too young to have those issues” and at some point, I’m thinking, “I’ve hung around folks my entire life who can’t say anything unless they are one-upmanshipping someone else” –

Sometimes I have patience, sometimes I don’t –

Sometimes I try to connect, show empathy/vulnerability to connect with another and I don’t word it right – STILL! – and they believe I’m one upping them or trying to judge them –

Sigh – – we’re all trained – to some extent and often, to much extent on many fronts –

I Invested 15 years of my life working up to the “I’m 50!” milestone….

I learned to speak up more, say “I don’t know” with no qualifiers or suggestions even though it durn near killed me to just say, ‘don’t know/no go’ and leave it at that.

I’ve worked hard modulating my voice and asking in space where I actually am interested in hearing their answer the “Why isn’t this good enough – what, exactly, are you wanting from me?” – to friends, family and bosses – here and there because I learned in my late 20s trying to ‘carry the load of other’s expectations’ was killing me.

I started walking away earlier and faster when the ‘games’ of the past seemed to be playing out more often/intensely…

With a “hey! you do you! But I can’t or won’t walk that path with you.”


Took me a long durn time, this latest go around, to get moved past my ‘stuck’ feeling from days, weeks, months ago – maybe even years or more – on this front and that –

But, just to ‘ease myself’ back into no longer being stuck?

Well – writing here – where I don’t have to know – I don’t have to be the best – just ‘good enough’ and it’s enough for today – and, if you’ve read this far?

You may not share my ‘core stories’ that no matter how many times I wash-rinse-repeat, I STILL manage to have, and this grand age of being more than half way to a century of not dying young living, I find – when I get stuck?

Takes me awhile, but I finally work my way back to the core stories that linger in my brain, soul and heart from early training –

Every time I remember that?

Well – I see it as a nudge – from inner me – that says,

“Oh for the love of all that is holy – so what? You’ve done this several times and it’s never as scary or fraught with all the potholes you talk yourself into believing are gonna happen – so go out and say, “I Don’t Know – Say – This is what I can do, right now – Good Enough, right?” and, remember….

It’s not world news tonight – –

Just, for the love of all that is holy (note to self) NEVER run for public office or become famous – otherwise the descendants of the teachers you had, that suspect you are talking about their loved one – or the teacher’s union (which is full of great and wonderful people!) will destroy you, first chance they see….

See? I’m still not completely over the ‘mind-talk’ and all

– but ta-da! I wrote something.

And if you’re reading this?

Ta-Da! I hit the “publish button” and let the “you don’t know, you should admit you don’t know, this isn’t good enough” feeding frenzy begin –

Because, today? Instead of just being a consumer of what others write or produce?

I produced something for the sheer joy of writing it down – editing it some – not talking myself out of it and for me, where I’ve been for awhile?

Today? That’s good enough –

What will happen tomorrow? I don’t know.

6 thoughts on “‘I Don’t Know’ – Good Enough?”

  1. I’ve realized for a while now, that I married into the family I have, to learn even more about putting away that “measuring” stick I keep in my back pocket at all times. My whole life, I have carried a measuring stick and pulled it out each time I felt there was some kind of violation on someone else’s part. “I would do this…” or “If it were ME, this is how it should be done” or even, “That is not right, let me show you how…”, because I had an ego. And of course, in my own head, I was right. My way WAS the common sense way to do something and it was tried and true – it worked! I used to argue and try to show people why I was correct. And, if I didn’t know something, I stated that too. I don’t know everything – no one does! I’ve always been open to learning. Even THAT got me in trouble because my measuring stick would have expectations about others admitting they didn’t know something – but they didn’t. I found myself upset most of the time, because my expectations about how people should be was exasperating and exhausting.

    Just last night, we were at my sis-in-law’s, and a couple of people went to bragging about how smart they were – all of their achievements, awards and accolades, blah blah blah. My sis-in-law uses the craziest terms and words. I call it a theatre performance (I say THEE UH TAR in jest) and I would guess it’s to show everyone how smart she is. I don’t even argue with her or ask why she used a certain word that was obvious no one else at the table knew what it meant either. I don’t ask what any of these words mean, nor do I comment at all in these conversations. It’s entertainment.

    Learning to let go and just shut up has helped tremendously. I still carry my measuring stick around because, well, I’m right about a lot of things, especially when it comes to common sense. And I don’t stick around or hang out with people who put me down. Gosh knows my entire childhood was all about that. I love meeting other people who “don’t know” something and admit it. Those are my kind of people! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear ya on the ‘shut up about it’ overall – and yet – I often have to ‘live’ with the decisions made by others, when I just keep quiet – somewhere, in there – there must be a ‘middle line’ that can be walked – but I haven’t found it yet and thus, ‘don’t know’ if it exists, really – – LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favourite blog posts. Ever. I remember saying to one of my friends MANY years ago ~ back when I was studying English at university and had a bit of reputation as a wordsmith ~ that I didn’t know the meaning of a word she’d just used… and she gasped. And laughed (loudly. in the library) and couldn’t believe that Anna didn’t know a word. I felt ridiculous and stupid and instantly regretted it. I wasn’t in the habit of saying “I don’t know” ~ especially regarding words. I’d taken a risk, pushed the embarrassment to one side and asked her what the word meant, and my fears were realised. And I survived.

    I hated that moment and now, decades later, I still feel the sting of it, but I survived and I got better at saying “I don’t know” ~ even though it took a long time for me to say those words out loud to anyone again (and OF COURSE I didn’t get the same reaction because that was a one-time thing, spoken by an immature girl who was taken by surprise by vulnerability and courage). And now my ramble is over too. 🙂

    Thanks for posting, xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh…Anna. Rest assured I read your post and will disagree with you calling it a ‘ramble’ – LOL. I say such things in 2.5 second, one sentence or less world I THINK exists, but FAIN! if such things existed in the landscape of my BLOG! Sigh! and I do so thank you for commenting/sharing your defining moment you still remember, on this topic – – to me? Anyone who says, “oh – that NEVER happened to me, ever, in any way shape or form!” to me? Obviously wasn’t paying attention or has managed to convince themselves they and society are always perfect – – LOL. Now? My ramble over – – 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kind of, sort of relevant … your discussion of whether it’s okay to say “I don’t know” … as an attorney, I never litigated. I was always in role of advisor. Responding to questions from my clients and helping them find solutions. All too frequently, I was put on the spot in meetings and conversations about whatever the issue of the day was. “Mark, what do you think? Can we do this?”

    It’s one of the greatest challenges, to be honest, to get comfortable in those settings, to be able to say, “I don’t know,” in response to those questions. “I need to look into it.” I don’t know when I figured that out, but I think I always knew that “I don’t know,” was a perfectly acceptable answer. It was far better to say that and get back to them with the correct answer, than to make a wild-ass guess and risk the wrong answer.

    Oddly enough, my successor in the job I held for the last 15 year being a sas has yet to figure that out. Even though he is several years older than me. I think it has something to do with ego, something I try really hard not to have. But him … sheesh, a flaming ego that lights up the sky. Just before I retired, I told him that a couple of his “clients” in the organization had expressed a concern to me that he gets to “yes” to quickly. Imagine that, clients who want to be told “yes” were concerned about him saying “yes” too easily. So, I told him this and his response was “well, if that’s what I think, that’s what I tell them.”

    I just wanted to smack my forehead when he said that. He clearly didn’t get it. And that’s the thing … what’s worse than saying “I don’t know” is not knowing what you don’t know. From what I’ve heard, since I left a year ago, his habits have not improved and a lot of people are concerned about the quality of his advice because he … has that ego and … doesn’t realize what he doesn’t know.

    Anyway, my ramble is over. Thank you for safe place for me to say all of this. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

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