You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I read a quote this morning from Pablo Picasso.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it”.

It reminded me of how much I learn in my work as an entrepreneur. One of my greatest passions has always been the entrepreneurial pursuit. My first memory of this passion goes back to when I was six or seven.

My friend, Rise (pronounced Reesuh), had just received a cotton candy maker for her birthday. I was totally in awe of this machine. Cotton Candy! This had always been relegated to a once-a-year treat at the county fair. Rise and I had a ball making a batch of cotton candy and eating it. It was in this state of sugar high revelry that the idea came to me.

We could sell cotton candy to others. We could make money doing this! My excitement was so high I ran home right then and there to tell my Mom. She was a lot less enthusiastic than I had imagined at my idea to set up a cotton candy stand in the field next to our country home.

My enthusiasm won the day, though, and she reluctantly helped me make a big sign advertising the sale of cotton candy and Kool aid. I had realized that the people buying our product might also be thirsty. This would add to the profits! By the time Rise and I had set up our stand I was already imagining all the money we would make and what I would buy with it.

I imagined the many people who would pull their cars off to the side of the road amazed at their good fortune. Cotton Candy, Kool Aid… what could be better!

Then reality set in. Cars were going by just as I had imagined. The people in the cars often didn’t see us, but many did. They just didn’t stop. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

It was adults who were driving the cars and the adults were not at all interested in cotton candy and Kool aid. Our sales were exactly zero.

My entrepreneurial spirit had been sparked. A couple of years later, I had another idea on how to turn something I loved into profit. My friends and I would put on a play and charge money. I knew this could work because my Dad put on plays at the high school where he taught music. They charged money for these plays and there was always a crowd. This idea was bound to fly, it couldn’t fail. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Well I did make a profit this time. Not much because I hadn’t considered that most of the neighborhood was IN the play, so I didn’t have much of a potential audience to draw from. There were a couple of kind-hearted parents and even a kid or two who were willing to plunk down a quarter for a little entertainment.

But I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I stepped out into the unknown. I used to think that “someday I would grow up and then I would know”. I spent many years, perhaps decades, waiting for that  lightbulb to click on, only to discover that “not knowing” is a wonderful part of a fulfilling life.

Stepping out and experimenting, playing around with an idea to find out what works and what doesn’t work in the real world. Using my imagination to guide me to the right next action. That is what being an entrepreneur requires me to do. That’s what living a fulfilling life requires you to do.

There is a very false idea that what makes us happy is to have everything figured out. The truth is that you too don’t know what you don’t know and that is okay. That is great, actually.

In the work I do with women entrepreneurs who want to have success on their own terms, I have found it is a magical mix of accessing what they know, adding in some real world knowing of my own and then helping them to explore the territory they don’t know.

The inner landscape of the soul brought to the outer world of commerce. There is nothing quite as magical as that “aha moment” when a new knowing occurs!

A couple of months ago, I found myself struggling to figure something out about my business. I caught myself mid struggle! I realized I must be in one of those “don’t know what I don’t know” situations. No need to struggle.

Instead, I opened up to a new possibility of knowing. I stepped out into the unknown and asked for help. That is the other very cool thing about admitting you don’t know something. It requires that you engage with the world.

Get help, experiment, play around… requires that you put the ego aside. One of my discoveries in doing this is that the true experience of being grown up comes not from having it all figured out but from knowing when you don’t know what you don’t know.  

If you want to make your own magic, I encourage you to experiment with one thing that you want to have. It could be an experience, an outcome, tangible or ethereal, something you know will make you happy…. and that you don’t know how it will happen.

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