The fragility of unknowing in a world that wants certainty

So this is a little post sparked by an email we received at Animas from one of our coaches-in-training.

She had attended a talk and had become quite dispirited by the strength of critical opinions being voiced by some of the coaches there. She even found herself wondering whether she’d made the right choice for herself to become a coach. She’d come to coaching to be in a place of “unknowing” not “knowing”.

Her email was sent to our client services manager but I was immediately intrigued and touched by it and asked if I might respond. You see, I loved the spirit that lived within her email — I didn’t want her enthusiasm and state of unknowing, so appropriate for a coach, to be quashed by the more knowing kind of coach.

You probably know what I mean by the more knowing kind of coach. Far from being non-judgemental and open-minded, they have opinions on almost everything about life: what a good life is; how it should be led; what is holding people back; the tools that can unlock people; the books we really must read; what someone needs to do to sort themselves out; and so on. It all comes from a good place of wanting people to be happy but it also all comes from a place of needing to know.

At Animas, we believe that coaching is about suspending knowing, embracing uncertainty and giving space for the emergence of the unthought and the unspoken

And so, I thought I’d share what I said to this coach in the hope that it is useful for anyone who has the same experience of living with unknowing and butting up against people who just know what’s what. Our unknowing state often feels fragile in a world that wants certainty.

“The reason for writing is to acknowledge the spirit of your email and to perhaps resource you a little for the journey.

Like you, I never believe I know anything for certain and offer anything and everything as tentative possibilities. However, many coaches do seem to hold a position of certainty around what life should be like, what a happy life is, how we should behave etc and it can feel quite frustrating to people who embrace that state of natural unknowing.

I have often found people who are “certain” to be challenging to my way of thinking but you’ll notice there’s a slight paradox here.

If we were truly unknowing we might be able to accept that other people DO know. So bit by bit I found a way to let people have their “knowledge” and their “certainty” whilst being OK with not needing any myself.

I’m not sure if this offers you anything of worth but I hope it does. I can almost guarantee that for all the amazing people you’ll meet through Animas you’ll meet others whom you find hard to bond with because they need to know, have opinions and so on.

My suggestion, for what it is worth, is allow these people to intrigue you. Be curious as to what their certainty means to them and why. Allow the world to be a laboratory of curiosity for your way of being rather than something that depresses and distracts you. Embrace the peculiarities of people and gently engage with their model of the world — allow their paradigm to be seen in your interaction with them.

And most of all — have fun with it :)”

If, like me and this coach, you sometimes struggle with people’s need to know, to have an opinion, to wrestle an opinion from you, then I hope my thoughts for this coach resonate with you.

It’s your life- have fun with it. Your way, not mine!