What Would You Do If You Didn’t Know You Couldn’t?

On rare occasions I read a blog entry so profound and deep that I immediately need to share it far and wide. That happened today after I read “The Oldest You’ve Ever Been” on Sarah Meets World.

I admitted in my tweet for the blog that I hadn’t fully processed the post. I’m sure you’ve had those moments where you encounter something so beautiful or brilliant that you need to let it sink in a bit, and even then you may not fully comprehend why you were moved so much. That’s where I am now.

I can’t even attempt to summarize the post, because there’s a lot going on (and it’s not even a long post). So I’d highly recommend you just read it and then come back here.


Here’s the one paragraph I’ll pull in here. It’s too good not to be repeated:

At any given moment, you are the oldest you’ve ever been. Thus, maybe in the moment you’re more likely to perceive yourself as capable, whereas in hindsight (with the benefit of being even older) you aren’t going to think you were even remotely suited to the task. Maybe you’re doing things right now simply because you don’t know you can’t.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on this in terms of my own life, and I came up with two conclusions:

  1. I have a similar level of astonishment when looking back at things I did in the past simply because I didn’t know any better. Japan is a recurring theme in those memories: How in the world did I sign up to spend a summer in high school living in a stranger’s house halfway around the world in a country where English is rarely spoken? How did I take a train to school for an hour every day, followed by a 40-minute walk from the train station to school?
  2. The flip side is that for every example I thought of where I did something because I didn’t question my capabilities, I can think of 10 examples of times where I let my fears, ignorance, or complacency get in the way. This goes way, way back. One of my earliest memories is being dropped off at a fellow kindergartner’s birthday party. When I arrived, the kids were playing tag–I know this now–but at the time, it seemed like everyone else knew exactly what was happening and were best friends with each other. My reaction was to climb a tree and stay there for a while (which probably belongs in the first category–remember when climbing a tree was always an option? When was the last time you looked at a tree, thought, “Hey, I could climb this,” and then proceeded to actually climb it?!)

I think it’s the juxtaposition between those two types of memories that has caused Sarah’s blog entry to cut so deep. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that no one at that birthday party really knew what was going on–they just decided to jump in the fray anyway and go with the flow.

In fact, I wish I could tell my current self the same thing whenever I walk into a room full of people.

I don’t mean to make this about my social anxiety. Sarah’s blog entry is about so much more than that (both for my life and in general), and I’m not going to attempt to cover it here. I mostly just wanted to share it with you in case you connected with it as much as I did. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it as they apply to your life.


5 thoughts on “What Would You Do If You Didn’t Know You Couldn’t?”

  1. A great read thank you! (Although I wish she’d given her memory of her teacher’s/parent’s reaction.)
    I found it interesting because I’ve said something similar for years: “Why did I think I could do that? Because no one told me I couldn’t!” And I’d like to thank my amazing parents for rasing my siblings and I with so much confidence.
    All that being said it wasn’t until I read your book, Kickstarter blogs and listening to “Funding the Dream” that I thought about putting my current creation on Kickstarter. So I should thank you too!
    I wonder if there is a tipping point in age or experience when your mind flips to “I don’t know HOW to do that, so I probably shouldn’t.”
    And Jamey, how come you didn’t comment on Sarah’s entry? She’d probably love to hear how profoundly it touched you 🙂

  2. Conor: “I don’t know HOW to do that, so I probably shouldn’t.” I like that! It does seem that it plays into the whole idea of doing what you don’t question you can be capable of, as I’ve done a lot of dumb things for which I probably should have known better at the time. 🙂

    I didn’t comment right away because I sent a lot of people to that blog entry via Twitter yesterday, and for some reason it felt weird sending people to something that had my name on it (even in the comments). Also, I figured Sarah would get a trackback from this blog entry. But I went ahead and commented just in case!

  3. Don’t worry Jamey, I’m sure I can give you a run for your money for “doing a lot of dumb stuff”, and I have dozens of stitches to prove it. Boys will be boys 😉

  4. Jamey,
    Thank you for distilling out your reaction to it, with all the tricky nuances of self-confidence and self-doubt intertwined.
    Seriously, I’m honored that it had such a response. 🙂

  5. Thanks Sarah! It really resonated with me and with others–when I shared your post earlier that day, it got a ton of retweets. I think people really connected with it.


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