In praise of the state of not knowing

Following our trapeze event last week and continuing the theme of liminal space, sustainability communications expert and kindred ‘just jump’ spirit Olivia Sprinkel has written a guest blog for us

In praise of the state of not knowing

Sometimes you just have to jump. You don’t know have a plan for what is coming next. But you just have to jump.

It isn’t something that we as a society feel particularly comfortable with. We like to have things mapped out. We like to have a plan. We like to have certainty – or to think that we have certainty. I know I do. My travel planning spreadsheet used to be evidence of this.

We prefer all of these things to having a vision that we believe in, and being confident that if we start to take steps towards this – or a jump, followed by steps, and maybe another a jump (repeat as a necessary) – then our vision will start to come into being.

One day, I decided to jump. I say one day, but the decision had been brewing for a while. But, one day, I had to take action. I left my job, doing good things for a good company with good people. But I knew that I had something more to explore.  That was the key thing for me – to explore. When people asked me what I was going to do, I couldn’t reply with a definite answer. I said that I wanted more time for my writing, the best explanation that I could give.

One of the things that I have learnt since then is that people who are clued up on these types of things call this a “liminal space”. This is one definition from Richard Rohr, which summed up pretty much exactly where I am:

“It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. “

When we are in these in between states, we don’t normally talk about it. I am an avid reader of the stories of how people got to where they got to, and this in between state isn’t often mentioned. But I think that we need to get more comfortable with admitting when we are in this space – because in sharing our vulnerability of not knowing it can both help us with the answers, and help other people to make a jump, because they can see that it is OK to do.

I believe that these in between states are as important for companies as for people in getting to a new way of working and being. One of my favourite corporate stories is how Ray Anderson announced to Interface that they were on ‘Mission Zero’, and on a mission to free an oil-intensive business from being dependent on oil. They didn’t know how they were going to get there, but there was the goal. It threw the executives around him into a state of panic. But once they accepted the mission, it unleashed the creativity, innovation and energy of the people in the business – and a new, successful way of business.

Richard Rohr continues the definition of liminal space quoted above to go on to say:

“If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

We know that we need a new story. But perhaps the first step towards this new story is a new way of being – which allows us to jump without knowing what is next, and be OK with this unknowing, to entrust and wait. To be with the cloud of unknowing as the Interface executives were.

I was sitting at my desk on day two of my new life, and a thought popped into my head, and stayed. “Follow the bliss”. I explored the thought in my notebook for a little while and then Googled it. The references that came up are quotes from Joseph Campbell, whose book on mythology ‘The Hero with a thousand faces’ was a big influence on me when I read it four years ago.

“If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else”.

Perhaps if we reframe the unknowing as following the bliss, perhaps we will find that jumping into a new future is easier than we had imagined. As individuals. As a society.

Olivia Sprinkel

See more about our Trapeze event:


One response to “In praise of the state of not knowing

  1. Thank you for posting this. It’s exactly what I am going through at the moment. The in between phases of life, limbo, uncertainty …I did a big move across the country and now I am in a state of not knowing what’s next. Reading your story somehow gave me a sense of ease. Thanks again.

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