The Gift of Knowing Ourselves

“I’m not ready,” said Margaret.  We were having coffee in a quirky independent coffee shop and talking about her job search.  The search hadn’t really started, it was simply brewing on her ‘to do’ list.  Margaret is a tour de force locally.  She is a newly divorced woman, the parent of two high-school aged children and the volunteer chair of a group that established a multi-million dollar land trust in a neighboring town.  This little endeavor is complete with a working organic farm and an impressive educational center.  Not ready?  How can this type of person not be ready?


Margaret and I focused our conversation on her interest in re-engaging in the workforce.   Her ‘ready’ remark was all about her preparedness to ask members of her land trust board for help.  In her mind these folks could very likely help her secure a job.   But…that was in the future.  Sometime.  When she was ready.

Margaret gated herself.  What was it that she wanted to do?   Until she knew the answer, she didn’t want to waste a contact.

Margaret isn’t alone in her thinking.  Society has taught us this approach.  To gate ourselves…..until we know.

The tragedy in this?  We have this all wrong.

Transition has convinced me that the best use of others is in the act of figuring it out.

I remember at my transition’s outset I networked with loads of contacts – and contacts of contacts.  I found it exhausting and fruitless.

Like Margaret, I wasn’t ready.

Unlike Margaret, I didn’t gate myself.   I waded right into the networking pond. Instead of saying, ‘I don’t know,’  I filled in the blank with made-up responses. I guessed what might be on the radar screen of my lunch-mate.  I’d say things like, ‘I’m interested in private equity,’ even though I wasn’t.   Needless to say, I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels.

Here’s the most interesting thing – we are not alone in, ‘not knowing.’

Everyone goes through it.

What differs is how we respond to not knowing.

Some tamp down not knowing – not giving it any oxygen.  Others like Margaret sit with it – until something else happens.  Still others look to other people to fill in the blanks for them.

Then there are those who go to look for an answer.


Desperately at times.

Knowing ourselves requires the courage to acknowledge the unknowing and to explore it.  To not look to others to fill in the blanks but to look into our hearts to craft an answer.

One of the most critical tools of transitioning is to leverage others as we explore knowing ourselves.  To do this well we need to adopt new behaviors – like new language and new approaches.  Instead of saying to someone, “I am looking for a new job,” or in Margaret’s case, “I am looking to get back into the workforce,” we say, “I am exploring.” or “investigating” or “unearthing……”  We use verbs that communicate a process instead of a destination.

We engage others in the inquiry – benefiting from their creativity, ideas, guidance, and experience.

At my coffee with Margaret we role played some conversations.  We left behind the opener, ‘Do you know any jobs in conservation development?’  We played with,  ‘I am investigating how I can take the energy and fun we had in securing the land trust to a new job.  Do you have any experiences that could help me focus my efforts?’

This approach engages the other person in the definition of what might be possible.

Thankfully I stopped the fruitless networking tack that I was on early in my transition.    I switched to process.  I explored.

I wondered together and out loud with others.

This approach brought me invaluable gifts.  It led to my research, my book, a new not-for-profit.  And the belief that I have everyday that I am so privileged to do the work I do….

Which camp of ‘knowing’ do you find yourself in?  Are you tamping down the uncertainty?  Allowing others to fill in the blanks?

Or are you willing to step forward towards a greater understanding of you?

In this season of peace I hope that you take a moment to wonder about knowing.  Will you embrace a process that will help you bring forward the incredible gifts that you alone possess?  Maybe the most important gift you can give this season is simply taking one step in the direction of knowing.

Thank you for your incredible gift of accompanying me on this journey.

Warmest wishes,  Linda R.


If you have another moment please read one of my favorite Novofemina holiday posts:

2013 A Gift for You This Holiday Season


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4 responses to “The Gift of Knowing Ourselves

  1. Hi Linda, I couldn’t agree with you more. In my career coaching I express to job seekers the need to have multiple conversations with others about what they know –whether it’s about an industry, company or related field, When the candidate hears the information that resonates with them ( parts of a job they like, the type of company culture they want, the type of impact the industry has on the lives of others, etc), they then know they are getting closer and closer to the type of work and company that truly suits them, This research pays off mightily when it’s time for the job interview, The candidate is not only knowledgeable about the job/company but is likely adept at explaining to the hiring manager why he or she is a good fit — because they have done the homework of learning about themselves and what really matters to them.

  2. Hi Linda, I couldn’t agree with you more. In my career coaching, I emphasize the importance of having multiple (often dozens and dozens of) conversations with others to learn about their industries, companies and job responsibilities long before the job interviews take place. Most people are also happy to share since it costs only their time and does not require them to do favors beyond that. As these conversations occur the candidate takes an active inventory of what has resonated — is this a field that is growing at the pace I want or aligns with my values, would the top down hierarchical culture at this particular company suit me even though the job seems like a great fit, is there even a job out there that exists that would keep me excited. The research really pays off as you can imagine during the job interview not only because the candidate is knowledgeable about the job and company but because the hiring manager can see that the candidate not only knows him or herself well but can effectively express why the job is a great fit.

  3. SGB, Thank you for your thoughtful comments and the perspective you add from your work in coaching! Warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season. Linda R.

  4. Amazing post. I am going to start switching my language from “I dont know” to “I am exploring, i am investigating, I am unearthing” it feels better.. I dont feel confused. There is clarity. Ahhh. Came at the right time. Thank you thank you!

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