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I don’t know what I’m doing (and you probably don’t either).

I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-BLOG

It took me until I was 26 to realize that my parents didn’t know everything. Most people realize that in high school and go through a rebellious phase right around the same time. I was a little slow on the uptake.

My parents are both incredibly smart, accomplished, wonderful humans. But, they are just that: human.

I thought that I would finally feel like an adult when I turned 30. I didn’t.

Then I thought that I would finally feel like an adult when I got married.

When that didn’t do it, I thought for sure that I would finally feel like an adult when I became a mother.

I didn’t.

I find that I still feel as though I’m just making it up as I go along. And I’ve come to realize that this is likely how I’ll feel for the rest of my life.

I’ve also come to realize that I’m not alone.

I’ve spent time with a lot of people who look like they really know what they’re doing: NY Times Bestselling authors, multi-millionaires, household name celebrities, pillars of communities, professionals with many letters after their names, etc.

These folks have two things in common:

1.  In at least one significant area of their lives, they don’t know what they’re doing.

2.  They continue to move forward anyway.

Realizing my parents and many of the other people I looked up to are winging it just like me could have been devastating.

I mean, if the people publicly lauded for their expertise don’t even know what they’re doing, is there any hope for the rest of us?

Instead, I found it liberating.

Well, if they don’t have it all together but they’ve still managed to become exceptional, then what’s my excuse?

Now that I knew there wasn’t some “Guidebook to Life” that I would be receiving at some unidentified date when I finally became an adult, I could get moving making my life what I wanted it to be.

Pick any person you look up to who you think has it all together.

I guarantee you they feel small sometimes.

I guarantee you they have self doubt.

I guarantee you there’s at least one area of their life where they feel lost.

What’s extraordinary about them is that, enough days to make it count, they don’t let these things stop them.

The internet and other kinds of media make it really easy to make things look a certain way.

It’s important for us as consumers to know that things rarely are the way they look.

And it’s important for us to use that as permission to keep at it.

No one is going to give you the rules.

No one can teach you a step-by-step proven system to rock at the life you want.

No one has it all together, no matter how it may seem.

I certainly don’t know what I’m doing, at least not in all areas of my life. And you know what? You probably don’t either.

I’ve yet to meet one person who does.

The good news is that knowing what you’re doing is not a prerequisite for living the kind of life you want to live. {Tweet it!}

Knowing what you’re doing-Tweet.

But moving forward, despite feeling as though you’re making it up as you go along, absolutely is.

So despite the fact that none of us know what we’re doing, we gotta keep on keeping on.

Sitting around waiting for someone to give us instructions to live the way we want to live and have the kind of impact we want to have is just silly.

Those instructions don’t exist.

Moving forward in spite of feeling like you’re making it up as you go along is how you figure it out.

I don’t know what I’m doing and you probably don’t either. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep doing it.

So keep on truckin’. I’ll be fumbling along right by your side, but making progress all the while.

 

OVER TO YOU:

Is there an area in your life where you feel you just don’t know what you’re doing? More than one area? How do you navigate moving forward anyway? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
  • Thais says:

    What a relief to know I’m not the only one who does not feel like an adult, even when I’m a 32 year old woman who pays her bills. BTW you DO look like an adult, so perhaps as you said, “things rarely are the way they look.” The way we feel inside is totally different from the way people see us. But regardless, we keep going. Despite it all. :)

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Thank you for telling me I look like and adult Thais – that’s very validating. It’s so true that our internal experience is rarely what people perceive on the outside. Good to remember!

  • Ive just become a mum at the age of 37. I wanted to feel ready. Be perfect. Then i got pregnant. Still didnt feel ready! Its a gift! She is a gift. A gift to learn to let go. Just be. Nothing more.

  • Maija-Liisa says:

    What a refreshing and relatable post. I’m learning it’s through honesty and love that we get things done. I’m learning it’s from asking a loving father in heaven and then taking the inspired action given. It works in any area where I don’t know it all.

  • Sheila says:

    Yes, I feel like I have no business running my business. It is trucking/transportation business. I can’t even drive a standard car, let alone a tractor/trailer, and I dispatch the employees and do all the bookkeeping. I think I am doing OK with the bookkeeping part of it. I am still learning everyday, but the trucking part is iffy. How I deal with it: I take every situation and handle it to the best of my knowledge and if I don’t know I ask my business partner/husband to explain it to me. I have been doing this for 13 years and learned lots on the way. My knowledge keep growing everyday. It takes patience. Thanks for sharing your story. Now I know I am not alone, and that even business people are struggling with not knowing everything in life. Thank you

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I love this Sheila! I also can barely drive a standard (I could do it in an emergency but not much else.) You are so bold for running your company and figuring it out as you go along!

    • Louise says:

      Wow Sheila .. just read your comment and you are an inspiration … I love it!

  • Maru says:

    Beautifully said!

  • Jason says:

    Dear Kate,

    It’s one of those synchronistic things when I happened to click on your email just as I was getting a bit bogged down. I’m in the Army and just got assigned to a section with no precedence and little guidance. To be correct, everyone seems to be a subject matter expert as soon as I mess up. I became even more disheartened as these experts started to become condescending and critical at very difficult moments. I felt drained and exhausted, wondering if my rank was just that. I soon became quiet and started watching the people around me. They messed up, they got yelled at, and they got things wrong. But they had good laughs, they joked about their mistakes, and they moved on. They got unstuck. So I had to devise a way to get out of the muck. Personally, I just pray to surrender it and to let the stickiness go. I start to count my blessings and the people who stand by me even as I make mistakes. I say some internal (some external when appropriate) words of gratitude, even for my supposed tormentors. And in the end love and willingness to carry forth wins. Always. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Thanks so much for this Jason. I love your approach to get quiet and observe. You’re a very wise soul.

  • Ellen Dworak says:

    I’m 64 and still don’t know what I am doing in some areas, because life keeps changing. Moves physically, professionally, new friendships, and I haven’t been a grandma all that long and because I want to be different than my Mom, I often don’t know what I’m doing. If we keep evolving and growing and trying to be better, to give and receive forgiveness and grace – that is the key.

  • Deb says:

    Competence is the art of having a little more information than the next guy while looking confident delivering it.

    Information comes from experience and confidence comes from the decision to move forward.

    We ARE all making it up as we go along.

    Keep moving forward anyway!

  • Thanks for this Kate, I have been following your blog and your work for a while now (thanks to my former coach Lael) and appreciate your words of wisdom. The fumbling through concept is exactly what I’m doing now in my new work. It’s exciting, scary, liberating, solitary and exactly what I want to be doing. Cheers to all that!

  • Laura says:

    I just inherited a lot of money, I have never made very much and live paycheck to paycheck, at 53 was still borrowing money every month to pay bills. I do NOT know how to handle money! It sent me into panic mode. I am struggling through though! LOL! Now I have house, credit cards and new car paid for. But it took me 10 months of reading, counseling etc. to get used to this! Now I am saving for retirement and another new car in about 6 years. I NOW have a plan and a budget to live by! Your article made so much sense to me, Thank you! Laura

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Yeah Laura! I’m so glad you got help and studied before just spending your inheritance (which so many people do.) You knew enough to get support and that’s saying a lot!

  • Eden says:

    Parenting. Everyday something comes up with one of my kids and I wish I felt like I knew exactly what to do.
    When my first child was born, I felt lost, but with child number 2 and 3 I started feeling like I had just enough figured out to proceed with confidence. Now with my youngest at 6 and my other two at 11 and 14 it is a whole different story. Tweens and teens need so much more then lemonade ,coloring and play dough time, when things get rough… and I was really good at coloring and play dough!
    So I try and stay calm and become mindful and remind myself that my only job really- is to love them. And I do.
    Kate, I know that you are a new mom and wonder if you have read “Everyday Blessings” by Jon Kabat and MIla Zinn? Best parenting book out there…I think.
    Thank you for showing vulnerability. Really enjoy your blog.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      It’s constantly changing, right? Such a trip. I haven’t read that book but I’ll get myself a copy!

  • Michelle says:

    this is EXACTLY what I needed to read right now. so much is happening for me at the moment. i find myself in a place where i look really damn appealing to many, and people want to collaborate with me to grow their businesses. i have a lot to say, and I do, once you get me face to face with someone, but i’m not sure how I got here. now, i’m not sure how i’m going to get there : “profitable, inspired and inspiring,” but i can’t stop talking and people are flocking to me like bees to honey. what am i doing?? I never know what’s gonna come out of my mouth until it’s said and it’s freaking me out….help! thoughts??

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Well, first you need to start charging for your time if you’re not already. I’d start there!

  • Yesssssss!! This reminds me of one of my “pivot” moments anddd a convo I was having w. Amber yesterday for her podcast…

    Basically, we don’t need to BE anyone different in order to be successful. In fact, success lies in being exactly who you are.

    This searching and yearning for “feeling like we have it all together” only separates us from that :)

    And it also reminds me of my memére — who I think is one of the strongest, wisest women in the world. She definitely wouldn’t say she feels like an adult haha!

    xo

  • Sandra says:

    What a great post! I wish I’d seen it when I was your age. I don’t mean to discourage anyone but at 70, I have to admit I don’t have the illusive ‘it’ together. I have a feeling no one ever does on this earth.
    I congratulate you and my daughters and all the wonderful young women who are doing ‘it’ anyway…moving ahead in spite of your fears and doubts, getting things done, bettering the lives of everyone around you even when you’re less than convinced of your abilities.
    I encourage you to keep trusting God and keep moving ahead! You are what makes this old world a better place! God bless you all!

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Thank you Sandra – and I agree. I don’t think anyone has “it” together at any age!

    • Denorah says:

      Your post was beautiful! Thank you!

    • Chris says:

      Sandra, I know you did not meant it in a funny way but I had to grin when I read this: “I don’t mean to discourage anyone but at 70, I have to admit I don’t have the illusive ‘it’ together.” I am 35 now and just like Kate, I got this suspicion a few years ago – we will grow old but never become “adults” or what we think that adults are supposed to look like. It is completely up to us, I think. We can start to freak out because the manual for our life will never be handed out to us or, as Kate so brilliantly put it, we can see it as a permission to finally start living our normal, imperfect lives. It’s just scarier than waiting for the manual and maybe this is why we shy away from it…

  • maria STARR says:

    Thanks Kate,,, this came up in my meditation this morning. How much I stumble and fumble and do not do the things I know could help me.. then I begin again and move forward… ah the joys of being human!

  • I’m turning 30 in a few weeks (and I’m excited! I’m also hoping desperately that my 30s are better than my 20s) and I have a few friends who are in their early/mid-twenties who are trying to “figure their life out” (get jobs, finish degrees, etc.) and I I’ve spoken with them frequently about the biggest secret of adulthood: no one knows what they’re doing. I’m still waiting for that feeling of “having it together” – I attribute this more to the fact that I’m still waiting for and praying for certain “adult” milestones – finding love, getting married, starting a family, buying a home (or heck, just being able to afford to move out of my mom’s!).

    I’ve come a long way in letting go of things that are beyond my control and have found great joy in focusing my attention on the things I CAN control (I became a runner and will run my first marathon 5 days before my 30th birthday!), but I still struggle with the idea that I may never reach these other important milestones and that that somehow makes me less adult than others.

    Thanks for this post, Kate. It’s always nice to feel a little less alone in this crazy world.

  • sowjanya Manacha says:

    Kate, This came at a very apt time. I have just started a new business, Have waiting 5 long years to do this and now I second guess myself very day about my decission and it freezes me into inaction. I want everything to be perfect and all to return my calls and me to be successful right away. Wishful thinking and when it does not happen I do my second best passtime which is beating myself up. End result nothing gets done and I get on the poor me merry go round
    Am glad I am not alone and will dust my self off and make those calls today !!!!Thank you

  • Pat Maloney says:

    IT’S GOOD TO KNOW I AM NOT ALONE AND THAT WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
    LOVE YOUR COMMENT ” THERE ARE NO INSTRUCTIONS COMING”!!!. SO MOVING FORWARD ONE DAY AT A TIME AND CONTINUE LEARNING.
    I AM 75 YRS YOUNG AND WONDER SOME DAYS “HOW THE HELL DID I GET HERE”.

  • Kimberly says:

    Hello Kate,
    Thank you for shedding light on a very ” adult ” truth and, spoiler alert, you’re right, as a baby adult you still never have a handle on everything. But I think that’s the point. You’re not supposed to. If you knew the answers, you wouldn’t seek questions and grow intellectually, spiritually and emotionally no matter how old you are.
    I believe a lot of this needless pondering is the act of the ego. I personally need to set goals but I often wonder off course and I usually end up in a far better place than where I planned to go. And to hold yourself to an image that your ego created is unfair and an unreachable goal because it doesn’t exist.
    I just became a grandmother at age 58 and not only is this little boy a reminder of pure joy, both of my daughters are not only seeing me as a human but they now can see how much effort I put into being a mother. My mom was extremely difficult but I made the conscious choice to be different so in my case my adult decisions were based on what not to do.Nonetheless, I put one foot in front of the other never knowing if I was on solid ground which has made me fearless.
    Time, experience and not taking life so seriously is how you navigate these waters and knowing that as soon as you figure everything out…it changes…is what life’s journey is all about.
    Love and Light,
    Kimberly

  • Elisabeth says:

    Amen! I feel this way every day in my business. But I’m finally learning to be o.k. this way. I LOVE hearing that I’m not alone and that those who have “made it” still struggle. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all just hang out our humanity for all to see? Imagine what that would do for the world if we all admitted that we’re scared to death, we don’t have the answers, and we need each other. Who needs a hug?

    • Louise says:

      I love that Elisabeth “hang out our humanity for all to see” … made me smile .. and it is so true!

  • Aldys says:

    Thanks so much Kate for this post! It’s so great to read that I am not alone. I have felt the same way, when will I actually feel like an adult and have it all together. Truth is life is a work in progress.

  • Louise says:

    Thank you Kate … a great post and reminder. I’m smiling as I write because I am remembering when I was 21 and living in Paris with a German woman Yvette and a Spanish woman Cello. We were all working as ‘Assitantes’ in a French school and were all learning French. Yvette was really fluent, I was studying French and was in my final year at university and Cello had very limited French. The funny thing was Cello was the one that communicated the most. Whilst I sat at lunch with my French teachers trying to put together a perfectly crafted, grammatically correct sentence, my girlfriend Cello was yacking away and quite literally making up words, verbs and tenses as she went along! The thing was it didn’t matter because we all understood what she wanted to say and absolutely LOVED listening to her .. she was funny, engaging, entertaining and had so much share. Cello taught me to let go of perfection … and as I did I started to enjoy communicating so much more! Great reminder … thank you!

  • Denorah says:

    So I really felt I had it together as a Mom to small children and while it was more adventuresome, teenagers. My oldest daughter graduates from college in two days and I realized with sheer terror that I have no idea how to be a parent of an adult child! She’s coming home for the summer and I am looking forward to good times and some rough spots. I am literally making this one up as I go. Somehow I feel almost the way I did the day she was born. This time I will be getting to know the woman. I am shakeu and excited all in one!

  • Adele says:

    I pray…. a lot! I loved your blog post on viewing our life itself as a prayer. I thought that was so beautiful. The idea of ‘winging it’ is so liberating and allows for pleasant surprises.

  • Rae says:

    I figured this out when, although I was ‘successful’ in people’s eyes, I felt lacking, like there was more.

    What happened next was incredible, I realized that it wasn’t about accomplishments, that I would never ‘get there’ because the feelings were all an internal dialogue about me not being good enough. Since that time I’ve focused in a different direction, one of cultivating self love, gentleness and really listening to my body and my feelings and guess what?! The accomplishment drive (which often felt like lack) is so much less, and the inspiration to create a life I really want is now the driver.

    I feel like now that I am going within to feel the way I want to feel, that there is no outward (or significantly less) comparison and so my journey is no longer one of not having things figured out, but one of creative process and constant personal evolution.

    Thanks Kate for sharing this post, it is so helpful to see it and have a reminder to help keep on the ‘evolutionary path’ rather than the ‘accomplishment path’.

  • Kelsey says:

    I love this so much! I have no idea how to be an entrepreneur, but apparently I’ve been doing it because I don’t fit into a clear box/job. I don’t know how to market anything. I have no idea how to get a book published, but I want to so badly I’m doing my best to learn. Just a few for now! Xoxo

  • Andrea says:

    I loved this post! I so relate and just had a baby myself. The college kids I coach I feel as if I know no better then them. They are my peers but I’m now 10 years older then most of them. It’s crazy how unadult I feel the older I get. I think I felt more like an adult when I was 22 and knew it all. Lol.

  • B. Serrano says:

    Thank you! I thought I was the only one who didn’t know what she was doing. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. It is all part of the process; I just have to keep moving. I have to keep “growing up”. Blessings.

  • Monday Blues says:

    Oh man, this post is so perfect right now. The stress of uncertainty, although I love it, really gets to me sometimes. I don’t know about everyone else, but uncertainty is where all my creativity hides. So, bring it on! :)

  • Lorri says:

    Really great post….new mom, new wife, so a lot feels foreign right about now. Good to hear the reminder that even the most successful people sometimes question what they are doing.

    Thanks!

  • Joanne says:

    I would like to give you a high five and a hearty “yes!” I think you’re totally right in saying that everyone – including amazingly accomplished people – doesn’t always know what they’re doing, and I agree that you have to accept and continue on. For me, I feel like I’m completely clueless as a parent (I’ve been doing it for 12 years now), and also as the owner of my own dental practice.

    What I’ve been focusing on is being honest about not being able to do it all and asking for help, which have been so huge for me. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts around this topic! Too often, people simply put on their “perfection masks” and avoid discussing their challenges. Bravo!

  • Kristin says:

    Kate, thank you for this! Perfect timing and exactly what I needed to hear, especially since you are one of the people I admire and look to for inspiration. I am almost 30 and am excited about it but also nervous. I do feel small at times and often wonder what the heck I am doing. What I find helpful in this is the freedom of creativity in making things up as you go along. Yes, a rule book for life would be nice but also seems limiting and could be boring. Enjoying this ever changing dance of life!

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