Embracing “I Don’t Know”

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

6 February 2019

Trying to find myself is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

When youre in the middle of finding yourself you won’t remember all those wise words people have told you. In fact I think self discovery might be harder than travel logistics, and let me tell you, those are pretty hard!

Soaring high above the ground in Ba Na Hills, Vietnam.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019.

A business mentor once told us that she would describe the progress of a business as:

year one – figure it out, year two – work it out, year three – rock it out

​I forgot those words entirely until, at the beginning of year two, I had my epiphany of purpose. (Ergo the relaunch of my website a few days ago.) Then I realized that I’ve just spent a year figuring it out. During the year, I of course thought I was taking a ridiculously long time and I had better hurry up and get back to “real life.” What’s starting to happen, though, is that I’m accepting this is real life. It’s my real life but it might not be yours. My concept of reality has widened, expanded, and completely changed. All because I was willing to stay suspended in “I don’t know” for a very, very long time.

“What you do when you don’t know the answers says a lot about your character…”

It’s funny because this “I don’t know” – I don’t know the answers, I don’t know how long it will take, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to figure this out, I don’t know which direction I’m heading, I don’t know where I will end up.…reminds me of my work in corporate. My best bosses admitted when they didn’t know the answers and we worked together to figure them out. It felt like great teamwork and I felt supported along the way. My worst bosses denied not knowing the answers and made shit up. The very worst boss hid and didn’t respond to emails if she didn’t know the answer. It was sad because we could have collaborated on figuring out the answers. But I do understand that not knowing the answers you think you should know is very scary. I see now that what you do in response to not knowing shows a lot about your character.

By the White Palace in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Photograph by Heather Markel

I assumed I could keep on seeing my current journey through my old lens of “entrepreneur with corporate background goes on adventure to find herself.” But I think that was just an attempt to cover up my fear of not knowing the answers I was seeking. At some point in my journey I started letting go and accepting I had no idea when or how the answers would come. I decided to keep doing what I love and trust that one day the answers would begin coming in.  And they did. Literally one year after I started.

I have a new lens and, ironically, I just got my first pair of progressive lenses! My new perspective is, “global traveler embracing a bold life hoping to inspire others to use long term travel as a path to self discovery.” From here I can see that my journey will last for some time. It may be in chunks or in a straight path, but it doesn’t really matter. Now in year two, I’ve suddenly got the start of a roadmap whereas before I was driving with a blindfold. (Not really, and I seriously don’t recommend doing that in Portugal. In fact, don’t even drive in Portugal if you don’t have to…)

You see I’ve become my adventure rather than looking at it from a distance. I know there are things about it I love, and things about it I don’t. I know I’m a person that loves creating things and taking them to a point, then creating something new. So I will likely not be on this particular adventure the rest of my life. But I will be on it for a good part of my current life. I have aging parents so I know that some creative planning and changes will happen in the future, and when that time comes, I manifest that all will be exactly as I need it to be to support me in those plans.

I recently met a girl at a bar who had broken up that day with her boyfriend. She was holding it together, albeit a bit drunk. She asked me, “How am I going to get on top of things and stay organized? I just don’t feel like I have things together and I need to.” I said to her, “Perhaps you don’t right now. Maybe you take a short time to embrace not being organized, fall apart, express the emotions, forgive yourself, and then figure out the next part.” And now I realize that was exactly the advice I would have given myself a year ago, now that I know where I ended up.

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