How to Leverage Your Mindset to Shake the Fear of Not Having All the Answers


You’re sitting at your desk.

You’ve just gotten an email from your boss asking you to put together a brief for a new client.

You immediately reply, “Yes, of course! Can do.”

But as soon as you press send, you think, “Oh, crap. What have I gotten myself into?”

Panic creeps in. A lump settles in your stomach. Your chest tightens. You start to get hot.

Because the truth is, you have no clue how to compile this brief.

But you couldn’t admit that to your boss. Tell her you don’t actually know what to do, or how to do it. Because she’d think less of you. Think that you don’t have it together. And that you’re not capable of doing your job. Then your job would be at risk. So basically, telling the truth would be the catalyst for your worst nightmare.

When did an admission of not knowing become this scary, unfathomable thing?

For the first two decades of life, we devote the majority of our time to learning. To absorbing knowledge. To broadening our horizons. To complimenting our growing bodies with an expanding, curious mind.

Because at that point, we know there’s more life ahead of us than behind us. That in order to grow and develop, we need to soak up all the knowledge we can. That learning is a good thing. Because it’s the fundamental way to propel our lives forward and excel.

But as we get older, there’s a shift. Learning morphs from joyous and inquisitive into undesirable, embarrassing and taxing.

I can’t tell you why this happens for certain, but here are two of my best guesses:

Hypothesis #1

When we’re young, we learn alongside one another. It’s something that unites us. But as we get older, learning takes on a competitive edge. We seek out varied interests. And it becomes clear that people learn differently. Some learn with ease. And others don’t. Our ability to learn and what we learn now set us apart.

Hypothesis #2

When we’re young, we’re still enamored by the world. In awe of the multitude of discoveries at our fingertips. And because of this, appreciate the intrinsic value of learning. We learn for the fun of it. Not to get anywhere. Or achieve anything. Yet as we age, we get hooked on the extrinsic value of learning. How knowledge influences our status and overall appearance. Because there’s this unwritten expectation that by a certain age we should have it “all figured out”. Know all the answers. Be the expert. And learning is seen as the antithesis to this. Because acknowledging we don’t know something is seen as a sign of weakness. Or a flaw. It’s an admission of guilt, rather than a neutral observation.

There’s a common thread woven through both scenarios. Do you see it?

As you get older, only your thoughts about learning change.

Which means that it’s possible to approach learning with the same zest, joy and spirit of a child. Whether you’re 20, 35, or 50 years old. Or stopped counting your years a long time ago.

Because the opportunity to learn is constant and ongoing. So if you shift your mindset, you can reclaim that sense of wonder about the world.

And who doesn’t want that?

According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two different ways to think about learning. With a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.

If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that skills and strengths are finite. That you either have it in you, or you don’t. So the need or desire to learn is like admitting your shortcomings. That there’s something you inherently lack. Because you believe that your traits are what make successful. You either can, or you can’t. Success has nothing to do with hard work. It’s all about YOU. This is the mindset responsible for feeling like you’re not enough.

But if you have a growth mindset, you believe there’s always something new to learn and develop. Which makes learning both exciting and a strength in and of itself. Because you’re excited by the opportunity for growth. Which you believe comes from hard work and commitment. Who you are or what you have is only where it begins. Learning opens up doors for what’s possible.

Let’s go back to my hypotheses above for a second. A fixed mindset sounds a lot like adulthood, doesn’t it? Whereas a growth mindset sounds like the beauty of childhood. Because children are curious. Explorers. Pros at having fun.

And somewhere along the way, we lost all of that.

We got more serious.

We got bogged down by responsibilities, expectations, and to-do lists.

We got hyper focused on and worried about how we look to others.

We got comfortable being good at what we do. And comfortable feels good. So we stuck with the familiar.

Some of this is unavoidable, yes. Even “a part of life,” you might say. But it doesn’t mean we have to lose every ounce of freedom we had as kids. It doesn’t have to ruin our relationship with learning.

If we shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we can reignite the child within.

So tell me. How do you think about learning in your daily life? Do you beat yourself up for it? Do you celebrate it? Does it differ based on your environment, like hobbies vs. work? And how do you view others when they admit they don’t know something? Or does it not apply because the people around you generally act like they’ve got it all covered?

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