Don’t You Hate Know-It-Alls?
Mr. (or Ms.) Know-It-All. You know the type – the person who has a story to “one-up” you at every turn, “Oh you traveled around the world, well I did that too and I went to 12 countries instead of 8″ or “You know – what we found is that if you want your child to sleep through the night, you really need to get stricter about your bedtime routine”.
We’ve all come across a know-it-all or two in our time. There’s the outspoken helicopter parent, the spray-tanned fitness guru, or the puffed chest colleague who feels compelled to tell you what you MUST do if you EVER want to advance your career. But, it’s no wonder we have so many know-it-alls in our midst. As Brene Brown says in her first TED Talk, we have become so uncomfortable with vulnerability that, “we try to make everything uncertain – certain”.
As someone who’s had a long-standing aversion to vulnerability, I was often accused of having an extreme need to know everything about everything. The control-freak confessions I shared in Risk Taking 101 were only a drop in the proverbial “I must have all the answers at all times” bucket.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), cancer taught me a painful lesson about how it feels to not have any answers: to not know if the chemotherapy drugs worked and the cancer is really gone forever; to not know if the nerve damage in my left arm will ever go away (it’s been almost 2 years and the numbness and pain has refused to leave); and to not have a clue where I wanted my life to go at the end of treatment. These and more questions came at me hard and fast.
This week, I spoke to one of my breast cancer sisters who is rounding the corner out of chemotherapy and into radiation. She confessed how scared she feels about all of the doubts circling through her mind. Who is she now? Where does she want her life to go? What if her future is much shorter than she ever dreamed it would be? To make matters even harder, she’s being tough on herself for not having all of the answers to these complicated questions.
During our skype chat, I wanted to pour myself through the computer screen, give her a non-electronic hug and say, in my least “know it all voice”, “I’ve been there. It’s ok to not have the answers.”
But, instead of trying to give her any advice, I chose to share one of my favourite passages with her:
“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as a I can, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
My copy of Rainer Rilke’s Letter To A Young Poet traveled with me on my Adventure of Hope and I would flip to this passage when I felt panic rising because I didn’t have all of the answers I thought I “should” have. Lately, I’ve started asking myself why I think I need to know-it-all when it comes to my own life.
For example, if you had told me 18 months ago, I would go to Africa for 10 weeks and be so inspired by my trip, I would return home last summer, give up my apartment, sell most of my belongings, and set off on a trip around the world (with no idea how I would pay for it), I just may have – excuse my language – shit my pants.
Sometimes, we’re not ready for the answers.
So, as I adjust to life in Canada and come up with plans for my new Big Hairy Audacious Dream to bring a group of 8-12 cancer survivors, a film maker, and a researcher to New Delhi next February, I am flooded with questions and the intense desire to find something to control. But, I’m going to take a deep breath and do my utmost recovering-control-freak-best to let go of the outcome.
Maybe by living the questions in your life, a gate will eventually open to lead you to the answers. When it does, maybe you’ll be ready to handle the “holy shit” my life is about to change, outcome. Who knows? All I know is that I don’t know anything for sure, but I’m going to keep enjoying the ride….
What do you think about living the questions and needing to know-it-all. I’d love you to share your stories or comments below.