Not giving a fuck

Letting go and the joy of not knowing

John Smith giving a talk at Inexpert 2018. Picture by Paul Stanley.

Last month I spoke at Inexpert 2018.

The event was a social experiment to explore our inexpertise in a world awash with expert opinions.

Created and organised by Steve Chapman, we wanted to see what happened when 12 speakers stood up and spoke in front of a hundred people on a topic they knew nothing about.

My eight minute presentation was focused on my alter ego John Smith.

John represents a hidden part of my personality that is uncooperative, sarcastic and bad tempered with the world. I know very little about him and have only recently begun to explore this more unsavoury side of myself*.

Using a theatrical mask I was going to embody this character onstage and bring him to life as a experiment to learn more about him.

Weirdly, when John Smith was publicly announced as a speaker back in January he started to spontaneously emerge in more of my day-to-day situations.

This hasn’t always been a good thing because getting to know John has connected me with my anger. This has caused a breakdown in several important relationships as a result.

However, as this has happened his behaviour began to change too; the anger and rage has started to give way to more sadness and melancholy. Like a heavy blanket of emotion that’s descended on me.

The joy of not knowing

So when I put on the John Smith mask and stood up to speak I was both nervous and unsure who was going to emerge in such as public setting.

Interestingly, it was a new version of John Smith that stepped forward. He was someone that really cared and didn’t give a fuck at the same time.

He cared enough to want to engage with the audience but otherwise he felt the weight of the world slipping off his shoulders. He felt free and at ease with the world.

After a few minutes members of the audience began asking him questions and the answer flowed easily each time:

“I don’t know”

“I don’t know”

“I don’t FUCKING know!”

As the talk continued he became increasingly comfortable with not knowing. There was a feeling calm and clarity. Paradoxically, he knew that he didn’t know!

It made him realise how often he should know the answer but actually doesn’t.

We are expected to know at school.

We are expected to know at work.

We are expected to know what we’re doing with our lives.

The response from the audience was just as interesting.

At first they didn’t know what to make of this raw and slightly edgy character. Then there was a sense of relief followed by lots of laughing in the room. Perhaps John Smith was giving them the permission to not know too.

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In the days and weeks since doing that talk, I have felt more at ease with not knowing. In conversations with friends and clients, I have found myself saying ‘I don’t know’ a little more often. And being more comfortable with saying that.

Obviously, there is loads of things I still need to know and plan for. But I wonder if there’s something to be said for embracing a bit more uncertainty in my life? Perhaps by 10%.

And, just as importantly, to not give a fuck that I don’t know.

***

Using a model inspired by a psychotherapist called Joseph Zinker, I have tried to compare my public personality (Rowan Gray) with this hidden yet emerging identify (John Smith).

Getting to know John Smith and integrating these seemingly contradictory polarities is my way of becoming more Rowan.

Becoming more Rowan: Inspired by Joseph Zinker (1978) and Jenny Mackewn (1997).

***

*I first discovered John Smith at one of Steve Chapman’s mask workshops using theatrical masks to explore unknown parts of our personality.

Rowan Gray is the founder of Made to Move and a qualified executive coach.