What do I know? Nothing.

I know nothing. Absolutely, nothing. The more I have experienced, the more I have learned, the more individuals I meet, the more books I read, the more I realize: I know nothing.

The larger circle below depicts everything there is to know in the universe. The tiny orange circle, depicts everything I know (Should be smaller, but the program I use to draw these things couldn’t go smaller). The wedge signifies everything I think I know (i.e. my ego; also, not drawn to scale;)

Despite “knowing” the above is true, saying I don’t know has almost become taboo for me. I don’t know is like admitting defeat. I don’t know is being in third grade and not knowing my multiplication tables.  I don’t know is being in 7th grade and the teacher keeping me standing in front of the class for one hour until I was able to define what an antecedent is. Today, the things I don’t know seem bigger but equally crippling:

What do I want with my life? The “life purpose” question. The holy grail of all questions.  The question that perplexes so many of us day-in-and-day-out, like a stray dog that was cute at first but then won’t stop following you or like a fly that keeps buzzing in your ear.  We interview for a job and ask ourselves: Is this what I want to do with my life? We start a job: Is this what I want to do with my life? We have a bad day at work: Is this what I want to do with my life? We have a fight with our significant other: Is this what I want to do with my life? We become disillusioned by a project we are working on: Is this what I want to do with my life?

Stop Asking: “What Do I want to do with my life?” Every time you ask yourself this question, you diminish the power of a moment or the day-to-day possibilities. Gandhi believed in service. Every day; every hour; every minute. That’s just what he did. Mother Teresa believed in service. Every day; every hour; every minute. That’s just what she did.

Be happy: As the Dalai Lama says: Write down what makes you happy, do those things.. Write down what makes you unhappy, don’t do those things.

Here are a list of things that make me happy:

+ Spending time with loved ones
+ Serving others/giving myself (See On Passing Around Smiles)
+ Watching movies
+ Contributing to something bigger
+ Solving problems
+ Yoga
+ Reading books that inspire me
+ Spiritual study
+ Meditation (See The Whale I Saved (or, So I thought))
+ Good conversations
+ Traveling
 
Here are a list of things that make me unhappy:
 
+ Not being honest with myself
+ Feeling lonely
+ Wanting everything (See I want my own Ted Talk)
+ Being hungry
+ Trying to please everyone
+ Negative people
+ Feeling unhealthy
+ Arguing over pointless things

What about you? Write them here and review from time-to-time.

What are you doing next? I ask myself this everyday — what is next, what is next, what is next — I am like a kid at a candy store that just wants more and more candy. What’s my next big project? What’s the next step with my relationship? What is the next step with my job? The chairman of the management consulting firm I used to work for always said, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Slow and steady wins the race.

Be present. Enjoy. “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” – Marcus Aurelius. Whenever you start to take yourself too seriously, remember we are just passing. Write down 10 things that you are grateful for and then go give yourself (Go to HelpOthers.org for ideas)

Trust. When Maxwell Plank was receiving his Nobel Prize for the Maxwell’s Four Equations (without which I would not be typing this post), he said after all my studies of the universe I must conclude that there is some higher power that is keeping the matrix of the universe working.  Call it whatever you like — Karma, God, the Universe, Cosmic Justice, etc. — but the dots always connect looking backwards. (Thanks Steve Jobs!)

What do you do?  The infamous and “go to” question at any social gathering. What we do with our time, helps people categorize one and other. Are you a doctor? Are you a lawyer? Are you a waiter/waitress? Are you doing “nothing?” I have a love/hate relationship with this question because it enables me to “group” who I am talking to into a preconcieved category. And, I hate this question because it “groups” me into a specific category.

Recently, I asked someone, “what do you do?” the person kindly responded: taking a break. The conversation ended. I felt like a jerk. Who knows…maybe she didn’t like her job and she quit, maybe she was fired and maybe she loved her job and quit because she was tired — my question assumed there was a function to her existence beyond being human. We are always doing something. Perhaps, the better question is “What puts a smile on your face?”

Be kind. Practice compassion. Be kind for every man has his or her struggles.  Are you ever ruminating and how bad of a morning, day, month, year, decade you are having? Look at the next person that passes you on the street  – imagine his or her struggles (Maybe he or she has a mean boss? Maybe he or she is lonely?). Consider all the people around you — imagine all their struggles. Consider all the people in your neighborhood? City? State? Country? Continent? World?

We are all doing our best, and sometimes we have better ideas of the answers to the above questions than at other times; however, learning to settle into the space of not knowing takes practice. Learning to get comfortable with uncertainty creates peace in not knowing. But, honestly, “Que sais je?” (What do I know?) Nothing.

Resources and Related Links:

The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne: One of my favorite articles on Michel De Montaigne that helped me to begin questioning what I know.
Gratitudelog.org: Write down what you are grateful for everyday here.
 
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