The Unknown Unknowns

One thing that’s astounded me lately is the idea of people not knowing what opportunities they’ve missed due to their own barriers or lack of execution. They’ll never know what those barriers have cost them, and the thought that we have no idea what we don’t know sometimes blows my mind.

Not Knowing What You Don't Know

Types of Knowledge, AKA Mind Blown
Credit: JS Atherton CC BY NC-ND-SA 3.0 license

So first, how do you combat not knowing what you don’t know? You have to start with the things that you do know are unknown and push boundaries. I find that a lot of people (myself included) are uncomfortable venturing into the realm of things they don’t know. It’s uncomfortable to feel bad at something. You feel “less” for not knowing, which is silly because the people who “know” things were once also in a state of not knowing until they sought out that knowledge. Finding out what you don’t know is risky business for most of us, but that’s the only way you can discover what else you don’t know or haven’t thought of.

That’s when we get to the fun parts of life; that’s when you find out things you didn’t know existed and opportunities seem to spring up. There seems to be a correlation between people who lament that they haven’t had any opportunities and the ones that don’t actively try to seek the boundaries of their own knowledge. Push yourself to find out what you don’t know and what knowledge is in your blind spots and you’ll find that opportunity is in a lot of places you haven’t looked.

Where this gets really interesting to me is when you try to think about all of the missed opportunities right under our noses. How many times have you met someone and never talked to them again, or one of you made a bad impression upon the other? Have you ever wondered what that interaction could have turned in to? You have no idea which interactions will be valuable, so while it’s really difficult to always bear this in mind and be your best self, think of the future value each one of your interactions might hold.

I can think of a few examples off of the top of my head where Max and I have given people advice or help, and then discussed what else we’d like to do to get involved or help people, whether it be more guidance, money, our time, etc. Almost every time we’ve had a friend in need and we’ve wanted to help them if they’ve helped themselves, they never follow through. We had one circumstance where we even talked about helping a friend by paying a month’s rent if we could (even though we really couldn’t at the time but hey, everyone needs a hand sometimes), and this friend never took any steps to get his financial situation in order.

What’s crazy? He has no idea he missed out on free rent because he didn’t go out and execute. He never knew we talked about this and probably never will, but that’s what blows my mind. How many times have you not taken advice that you asked for or used connections that someone gave you? What was the potential cost to your future?

How often do we think that we can’t catch a break, or that things never go our way? More likely than not, it’s because we haven’t been prepared to recognize and seize an opportunity that’s been there the entire time. It drives me even crazier that I could have missed these chances, so I try to do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. As golfer Gary Player once said, “It seems the harder I practiced, the luckier I got.” One of my husband’s favorite quotes is also pretty relevant:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
-Thomas Edison

So how do we learn from this? Know that there are a lot of things you don’t know. Try to seek them out yourself or with people you respect and look up to. When you ask people for advice or help, realize that you have no idea what they have planned or what your potential actions could generate. Live with intent so that you don’t miss these opportunities.

It’s hard work being responsible for the direction of your life and your choices, but around every corner is someone that could have given you a hand to pull you up closer to your goals. Don’t neglect or ignore these possibilities. This idea has kind of made me crazy with reflecting on things that I’ve done, but I think it’s for the better and that it reminds me to respect the interactions I have with everyone I meet.