The Hidden Fear Behind “I Don’t Know”

Asian woman in deep many thoughts, having trouble knowing what she wants, saying "I don't know"

How often do you answer a question with “I don’t know”? NOT, that there’s anything wrong with it. When you don’t know, it’s the best answer.


As women leaders, we are often expected to have all the answers. And we frequently do. We stay on top of all the things that need to be done, the status of the things in progress, the schedule, and the people. Yup, we stay on top of all.the.things.

Because we don’t want to say, “I don’t know.”

And then someone asks us what we want. A friend, a mentor, a coach.

What do you say? How often do you answer the question “What do you want?” with “I don’t know”?

If you’re like a lot of women I know, including my former self, that’s exactly what you say.

The thing is… you do know.

BUT—and this is a big but—it’s astonishing how often people (women) don’t allow themselves to know what they want.

When I’m working with clients, one of the first things that we talk about is what they want (the Clarity pillar). Now, they usually have some idea, but it’s often vague and hidden under layers of being unsure and unclear.

“I don’t know” is a classic defense mechanism. There are two main aspects of that defense:

  1. If we don’t know what we want, we don’t have to take responsibility for wanting it or—more importantly—taking action toward getting it.
  2. It keeps us focused on what everyone else wants because that’s safer too. After all, what if they don’t want what we want? Or what if what we want conflicts with what they want?

As women leaders, we are usually taught to subjugate our own needs and wants for the sake of the team, the family, the organization. Aren’t we?

So, it’s easier to think, to say, “I don’t know.”

But it’s not true. You do know.

Even if it’s as simple as someone asking you what you want for dinner.

So, the next time someone asks you what you want, take a moment. Put a pause on the “I don’t know” and tap into what you’re really feeling. Let yourself feel. Let yourself know.

You don’t even have to say it out loud if you don’t want to.

Just acknowledge what you really do want or don’t want.

You can say it out loud the next time. Or the time after that.

But let yourself know what you want.

It’s not as risky as it seems.

PS – Want a different view of facing fears and setting boundaries? Check out the latest YouTube episode of “Are You Brave Enough?”

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