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Three Little Words That Will Set You Free

How are you doing?

It sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it? It’s right up there with What’s new? and What’s happening?

All these questions require a reply, preferably one of a short, definitive nature:

Fine. It’s going great. Super. Thanks for asking. 

photo: Thomas Beck on flickr

As if.

Here in America, we love snappy replies. We want everything to be simple, clear, and straight-to-the-point.

But that’s not always possible.

I once had a teacher who told me she loved going to India. She said that the minute she stepped off the plane, she could feel she was in a country that valued introspection and intuition.

photo: Vinoth Chandar on flickr

America, by contrast, is an extroverted, materialistic nation. We value getting things done. We value those things we can see and assess with our physical senses. And these things have their place.

But there’s more.

This same teacher is the one who taught me the vital importance of this phrase:

I don’t know.

photo: hobvias sodoneighm on flickr

In an extroverted, materialistic society, I don’t know is against the grain. And yet it’s vital to a life of creativity and aliveness.

How boring would it be if our whole lives were already planned out for us? Day by day, month by month, set in stone. And yet such rigidity is often expected by ourselves and others.

I don’t know counters all that.

When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was willing to hang out in the I don’t know because I had no other choice. Staying in this place of openness and ambiguity led me to working on a farm, then studying psychology, then working with teenagers, then writing fiction, then going to ministerial school.

Indeed, my life is a dance of hanging out in the I don’t know, then receiving direction, then taking action, and then hanging out in the I don’t know once again. This dance allows me to remain open to messages from the Bigger part of me, the part that would be inaccessible if I insisted on always knowing what was going to happen next.

photo: Toshimasa Ishibashi on flickr

Yes, it can be scary to not know, but the payoff is mighty.

So here’s the question:

Where are you with the I don’t know?

Are you totally at home in this place?

Or are you living in the I don’t know, but telling yourself it’s not okay to do so?

Or maybe there’s an area of your life that’s in an I don’t know phase, but you’re trying to force it into premature clarity, imposing structure and answers where they don’t belong.

Or perhaps you’re under the illusion that once you get through an I don’t know phase, there will never be another one again.


I have to admit, I’m sometimes guilty of this last illusion. But the longer I live, the more I see that this I don’t know place is one of the richest areas of my life. I’m seeing that in order to stay intimately connected to the Divine, I need to continually sit in the I don’t know, wait for answers, move forward, and then wait in the I don’t know for my next steps.

photo: Barbara Willi on flickr

Indeed, I think it’s time for an I don’t know revolution!

Someone asks how you are, and you answer I don’t know. Someone asks about your next career move and you reply, I don’t know. Someone asks who you are and you say, I don’t know.

Imagine the freedom! The possibilities! The intricate Dance with the Divine!

photo: Dino ahmad ali on flickr

What’s your relationship to I don’t know? What have you learned from periods of waiting?

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25 Responses to Three Little Words That Will Set You Free

  1. Lori Louise Lawrence October 2, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    Z, thank you for your once-again impeccable timing. Your blog post validates my relaxation, and that feels wonderful.

    I am in a waiting place right now, not yet employed in my new field, and for the first time, it’s NOT scary and nerve-wracking, but OTHER people’s reactions are frequently oriented toward the notion that I “should” be anxious about this right now. While it’s a fact that my bank balance is quite low, it’s also a fact that my bills are paid, my rent is paid, I live in a wonderful home with congenial roommates, and I know I will find wonderful work as an occupational therapist at exactly the right time.

    Living appreciatively in the mystery,
    Lori Louise

    • Z Egloff October 2, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Hi Lori Louise,

      Great to “see” you here! And I’m glad that the timing of this email worked for you!

      Thank you for sharing your “I don’t know.” It sounds so powerful! That’s wonderful that you are remaining so grounded in the “IDK” and that you’re providing a model for others that one can be in this place and not have to freak out. I love it! It’s validating for me to hear about your process. Thank you for sharing it here.

      And stop by again any time! :)


  2. Karen October 2, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    It does feel good to give ourselves permission to say “I don’t know” and feel fine about it. It’s unrealistic to think we’re always going to have the answer to everything, even including our next step in life.

    And if someone says, “What do you MEAN you don’t know?” we can say with a grin, “Yep. That’s where I am, but I’ll inform you immediately if not sooner when I have an answer.”

    • Z Egloff October 2, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Karen,

      Yes, it really is freeing isn’t it?! I think it’s also a great model for others to reply to questions with the magic 3 words. Empowering for everyone, whether they know it or not! 😉

      Thanks, as always, for your comments!


  3. squirrel October 2, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    ooh this is so good, z. i’ve been in an “i don’t know” phase for quite a while now. i still don’t know what i want to be when i grow up and over the past few days, i’ve been thinking about it. on one hand, i don’t like being in “idk” because i like having a sense of control and when idk, i don’t have that. on the other hand, it’s freeing to surrender to it and to allow life to work through me and manifest a way better life than i can imagine. a few years ago, i couldn’t handle the ambiguity; it was just too much for me. but now it’s mildly uncomfortable for the most part. it’s a huge step for me. :)

    thanks, z. you rock.

    le squirrel

    • Z Egloff October 2, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Yo Le Squirrel!

      That’s awesome that you’ve been able to move into a place of increasing comfort with the IDK. Yay!

      For me, the more I can lean into the IDK, the more aligned my life becomes with the Divine. I become more and more willing to surrender to that Power and Presence and let it run the ship, not me. And then amazing things happen. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.

      It’s extremely groovy that you are allowing this process, and allowing the Mother Squirrel to guide you! 😉


      • squirrel October 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        bahahaha mother squirrel. me gusta.

        and i totally know what you mean. 😉


  4. Christopher October 2, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I don’t know…such is liberating for me. I do not have to “figure it all out” cognitively. I can just lean into this mystery with the knowledge that I have nothing to do but relax into this unknowing, this letting go and releasing myself into the heart of Spirit, knowing simply it is all handle and done perfectly.

    • Z Egloff October 2, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      Hello Christopher,

      It really is quite freeing, isn’t it?! Thank you for your beautiful words to describe this place. It occurs to me, as I read them, that although we may not know, Spirit does. And the more I can lean into the “I don’t know,” the more I can see with the eyes of the Divine – including seeing the beauty of not knowing with the mind, but comprehending from something much deeper.

      Thank you for your words.


  5. donna October 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm #


    • M October 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Really—I really don’t know.
      The older I get ther more I do not know….really….REALLY.!

      This concp[t may be fodder for the 12th Core Value….
      #11 is Practice….there is no substitute for DAILY Practice….
      Do what you love…love what youj do.

      #12 might be…know what you know…..and know what you do not know….

      With patience… ala Holmseian & Intospection


      (aka mdl )

      • Z Egloff October 3, 2012 at 11:45 am #

        When I was younger, I never understood when people said that they older they got, the less they knew. But now I understand. Or should I say – now I don’t understand. But I know that I don’t understand. So I understand. And I don’t. 😉

        BTW, I agree with you about daily practice. This is invaluable with the knowing/not-knowing.


    • Z Egloff October 3, 2012 at 11:46 am #


  6. toshimasa October 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Thanks for sharing a nice post,
    I felt better for myself after reading it.

    After working like a cogwheel in tokyo for many years,
    I stepped back and spent a whole year just resting,
    being there with my wife and kids.

    Yes, I was a bit anxious and scared at first, no income and such.
    But during time spent in calm, those were gone and a dim, warm and firm feeling started to arise in me, thinking “go with the flow, and enjoy every minute of it”.

    I think I’m ready to go back to work now, with this new spirit in mind.

    from the guy sitting by the red-rock cliff in the photo

    • Z Egloff October 3, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Hi Toshimasa,

      Thank you so much for your comment. It is always a big treat for me to hear from the photographers whose photos are featured in this blog. And when the post speaks to the photographer, that is even better.

      I love your language and the way you describe your time off. I am glad that you were able to listen to that warm and firm feeling, and that your time with your family was rich.

      Thank you for your beautiful picture. This photo captures much of what you wrote in your comment.

      I wish you the all the best!


  7. Jill Shinn October 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Hi Z, I love the I don’t know place because it is so freeing, and it’s so bold and confident. My Dad once told me never to say “I don’t know.” He said “Just say “I’m not quite sure’, then you don’t sound so ignorant.” My brother-in-law’s version of that is, “It’s hard to say…” And when my husband doesn’t “know,” he just starts saying a bunch of smart stuff to throw people off. But I love to stare at people blankly and say things like, “I don’t have a clue,” “I have no earthly idea.” and “Hell, I dunno.”

    • Z Egloff October 3, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Jill!

      It really does go against what our sociey teaches us to admit that we don’t know. And yet it’s so liberating. In reading all the comments here, including yours, I’m reminded of the importance of being “out” with our I Don’t Knows. In doing so, we’re giving others permission to Not Know as well. And how groovy is that?! :)


  8. River October 6, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    Hi Z!
    I just closed my business. I am in the entire state of IDK. Mostly it is an odd place because I am a getter done kinda person. I know what I want to do and I do it. However, I am finding that being in IDK makes me feel more of a River than a rock and that feels nice for a change. Seems that is the place where new dreams are floating to the top but IDK where they will take me.
    Maybe I don’t have to anymore.

    • Z Egloff October 9, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      Hello River,

      Yes, River does seem the perfect name for an IDK period. Congratulations to you for taking a leap into IDK! It sounds like a magical time – many new things coming to the surface.

      One of the biggest lessons for me recently is that there’s no end to IDK. And the more I make friends with this place, the more I get to dance with Spirit.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the flow! :)


  9. Jiselle October 19, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    I actually just finished an assignment in my art class which was to make an art piece or written work that would be our manifesto, our outline of what we are as an artist and what our work is. I asked my teacher, “What if I don’t know?” and he told me, “Then that’s your manifesto.” So I made a graphic design piece that said “I DON’T KNOW” in huge letters. It was so cool to be told to embrace the fact that I didn’t know! It was so great to read this and hear it as such a positive thing here as well, I’m so used to being told that I need to know but I’ll just keep reminding myself that it’s fine not to know. :)

    • Z Egloff October 23, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Hi Jiselle,

      This is so cool! What a great story. And what a great teacher you have! I love to hear about other people who embrace this concept. Putting this IDK idea into a work of art is cool, because it’s a whole other dimension of letting in this truth. I would love to hear how your manifesto grows and changes as a result of starting in this powerful place.

      Great to hear from you, as always! 😀


  10. Cherie October 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    It’s so interesting reading this, because I feel as though I’ve been “spinning my wheels” for quite some time. It is true that this (North American) society is geared toward always having to go somewhere, go somewhere, set a goal and be a big, successful person! I realize that the more I tell myself that and it doesn’t happen the way I want it to or when I want it to, I feel like a huge failure. Having read this article is starting to give me permission to think otherwise. How, I don’t know. Lol

    • Z Egloff October 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      Hi Cherie,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. Yes, our North American society definitely puts success and “having a plan” WAY up there in importance. But my experience is that if I’m not willing to sit in the “I Don’t Know,” then my plans are often superficial at best and damaging at worse. Simply being willing to stay in the “I Don’t Know” is a powerful, and radical, step. One of the most radical things about it is that we’re not “doing” anything – we’re just waiting. And sitting. And not knowing. What a concept! 😉

      Come by again any time! :)


  11. Jackie Barnes August 24, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

    I have never liked being in the IDK place – control, control. However, right now I just don’t know – who I am, what I want to do, where I want to go, etc, etc. Kind of scary, but working thru it. Thanks for the reinforcement.
    Love you, Hugs


    • Z Egloff August 24, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

      Yes, it can certainly be hard. Sending you love and hugs and energetic reinforcement – you can do it! :) XOZ

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