We have this idea that we don’t know what’s right for us. We need to read one more article, or consult our therapist, or check in with friends. I find with my clients that so often when they say, “I don’t know,” they in fact do know. This seems to be a particular issue with women, who are trained from a young age to check in with others, to please, to test the mood of the room, to fit in. It’s hard to trust what you know when you’re checking on Facebook for what’s in or what’s acceptable or what others like. Often people feel stuck because they have so many parts of their lives that are up in the air, that they can’t figure out what to fix first, since they are all interconnected. I just gave the advice recently to a woman: “If you’re trying to take apart a ball of twisted yarn, you just need to grab onto something and work with that and then other parts of the yarn will loosen a bit, so that you can find the piece that allows the knot to loosen.” It’s the same with us.
I have a client who wants to please her family and friends, who expect her to stay in her little town and get married and have babies, but what she wants is to live all over the world. When she says, “I don’t know,” she is just mourning the fact that she needs to break away from her “tribe” to be true to herself, since she values freedom and adventure and they don’t. A woman I spoke with recently knows that she wants to have a baby and stay home and work part-time, but her fiancé doesn’t want to work a full-time job that would support them, since he is a free spirit. She is realizing that she knows what she needs may be in conflict with the partner she’s chosen. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but better to know this now than later. Another woman wants to keep working when she gets married and has kids, but now that she’s engaged, everyone else in her life assumes she plans to be barefoot and pregnant, and that terrifies her. Another client just had a successful art show with great reviews and was excited about moving forward and getting her installation into top museums, but suddenly lost all her confidence this week and questioned whether she should do art at all. When I gently pointed out the connection between her spending a few days tending to her elderly and very critical mother and doubting herself and her art, she saw the link too. She knew, but sometimes it takes an outside person to remind us of what we know.
My job is to remind these clients that they do know what they need. The key is to be brave enough to speak up about what you know and let the chips fall where they may. That takes courage and staking a claim to what you know is scary. More than anything, we have a need to belong, and facing criticism or rejection feels like outright abandonment. I have a friend who was disowned when he told his parents he was gay. The thought of not fitting in or being accepted is awful. But living a life of “I don’t know” is worse, when you know deep down that you do know and just aren’t willing to say it.
To find your world stage, remember that you are unique. What you need and want is going to be different than many people in the world, in your country, in your state, in your town, on your street, and even in your family. You may be the only vegan in a family of meat eaters. You may be the only Republican in your town. You may be the only poet in a city filled with software engineers. But your tribe exists somewhere. You just have to find it. And in the meantime, every time you say, “I don’t know,” remind yourself that you do in fact know. You have a right to ask for what you need and want, whether it’s staying home with a baby, or traveling the globe and leaving your little town for good. You do know.