“I Don’t Know It All.”

The title of today’s commentary is one if the easiest things to say, but can be one of the hardest phrases to acknowledge. The source of inspiration is based on how QHPs are often brought in on TV to explain an incident or debate a social issue. Very rarely do they acknowledge a lack of “not knowing” in those situations.

Now, the regulars here will now I’m a QHP in training (again with these acronyms) for the 9-5. It doesn’t really matter what discipline – medicine, social work, psychology, psychiatry, nursing, nutrition, etc…when one chooses to become a QHP, the expectation is that there is a certain level of expertise one has to bring to the table. After all, if one goes to the doctor or social worker for assistance, the last thing you want to get is someone who is “inexperienced”. It’s why graduate and doctoral degree programs are so expensive and time consuming, and why the need for licensure exists. Once you’re working with people in their most vulnerable states, it’s important that you have at least a clue as to what you’re doing as a QHP.

Still, the hardest thing for a QHP to say is “I don’t know” or “I don’t know it all”. I’ve been in that boat before in working with a client and just ran into something so out of my league I just had to acknowledge a lack of unfamiliarity with how to handle the situation. Some clients have been understanding, some have not. Luckily, QHPs are trained to consult with colleagues and supervisors for assistance in those situations – I’ve told clients that I was going to do that to get them the answers to the problem, after acknowledging my unfamiliarity. I’m sure this also applied to other industries too when handling challenging circumstances.

So what about those non professional situations? What about the spouse who got cheated on? What about taking care of that sick family member? What about coping with the death of a friend? What about being a parent and running into something that has to do with your child you’re not used to or never saw before? (For parents, handling social media’s pervasive impact comes to mind, along with the regular adolescent jockeying for independence and identity formation). The argument here is the expectation that the parent is the expert and admitting a lack of expertise is detrimental to the process. Or there are others who have gone through those situations so you’re expected to handle it in a specific way that “everyone knows about”. So how do parents handle this? Can they really say “I don’t know it all”?

My mother said to me when I first moved to the US “whenever people ask you for advice outside your sphere of interest, tell them you don’t know”. I think there’s much wisdom in that…the expectation of taking on a more visible role in the community with an accomplished career choice lends one to be perceived as an authority figure or someone to be a bastion of knowledge. But I also view those words in a different context now…an admission of a lack of unfamiliarity as an invitation for exploration. Some people want you to give them answers. My current QHP training, which has enhanced my own innate beliefs, is that people have their own answers inside them and the trick is connecting them to said answers. I get yelled at a lot because I don’t want to give people answers as sometimes people don’t want to do the work to figure things out for themselves.

So is an admission of not know really a sign or weakness? That’s up to you to decide. The best part of being human is the capacity to learn and adapt. I suppose of we didn’t have that, it would be really screwed up a out how what we don’t know could impact us.


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