The concept of confusion and ‘not knowing’ continues to be a life theme of late. It was present for the first time during a writing conference I attended in St. Louis a few weeks ago, on behalf of my position at the Undergraduate Writing Center. I was at a round table discussion and we read an excerpt from a book by Margaret Wheatley. The premise of her article states that, “We aren’t trained to admit that we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused.” These two sentences pretty much rocked my world. She goes on to suggest that, “We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve away to make way for the new”.
Wait a minute. She’s suggesting that in the midst of writing my dissertation, I should welcome confusion? Throughout this doctoral program at UT, I’ve felt that ‘there is something wrong’ when I’ve gotten confused. I’ve been embarrassed when I’ve needed to confess to someone that I need help with some aspect of my research project or in classes. Shame and fear of judgement are also involved, and that once again someone will figure out that I don’t know what the f#ck I’m doing. In many ways, graduate school has been the polar opposite of embracing confusion. I’ve felt pressure to be an expert, to have mastered knowledge, and to prove myself. There is no room for “not knowing”. How messed up is that?
The concept of confusion has also come up in my journey of personal growth. Throughout my lifetime I have gone through stages of confusion, doubt, not knowing, and questioning. An existential crisis if you will. Typically, I feel a twinge of anxiety during these times. The inner-critic will pipe up and tell me that I should have this all figured out. Everyone else has it all figured out, so why do I get off of my path so often when everyone else seems to be on the highway of Self-actualization?
I’m fascinated that this lesson has come at me loud and clear, at the intersection of my work at the writing center, my dissertation, my spiritual growth, and my graduate student experience. So I figure, with all of this confusion popping up all around me in life, the Universe is trying to tell me something. I think I am meant to learn that we’re not supposed to have all of the answers. Questioning aspects of life involves awareness, talking with people, hearing their ideas, being open to newness, and connecting with others through our humanity. Wheatley encourages us to, “begin a conversation, listening for what’s new…we have the opportunity many times a day…to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain.”
In a related way, confusion is a sign that we’re in the gap. To me, the gap is similar to that space between. Its the space where Self discovery happens. The gap is the space where brilliance and creativity is born. We’ve crossed the gap when we make a jump from being content, stagnent, and ‘knowing’ — towards evolving. I think that for so long, I’ve scrambled to get out of the gap and back onto my path as quickly as possible. I am learning to embrace it, to relish in it, and to love the confusion — for it is a sign that creativity, Self-discovery, and epiphanies are on the other side!
Wheatley, Margaret. (2002). Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to restore Hope to the Future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.