The 3 Most Intelligent Words in the English Language

I’m not that smart. Neither are you. There’s a whole helluva lot that even the brightest among us don’t know about the world. Even when we put our heads together and combine our knowledge, we still fail to find answers to some big important questions.

I used to try hide my ridiculous lack of knowledge. Not so many years ago, if you had used a word in conversation that I wasn’t familiar with, I would have nodded along as if I understood perfectly. I didn’t want you think I was an idiot for not knowing what apathy meant. Nowadays I’ll ask you to please back up and explain.

Because at some point I realized that it’s okay not to know. You actually learn much faster when you admit that you don’t know something, because then you’re free to ask questions. You ditch the ego and the pretense and allow some new stuff to enter your brain.

20 things I don’t know

  1. I don’t know how to start this list
  2. I don’t know how to succeed in business
  3. I don’t know how I’m going to pull off my RTW trip
  4. I don’t know who I’ll be a year from now
  5. I don’t know if veganism is really the healthiest diet for me
  6. I don’t know if I’ll ever settle down and do the wife and kids thing
  7. I don’t know how this post will turn out
  8. I don’t know how to do a handstand
  9. I don’t know what happens after we die
  10. I don’t know how to cook a nice couscous dish
  11. I don’t know what a Justin Bieber song sounds like
  12. I don’t know much about travel hacking
  13. I don’t know much about language hacking
  14. I don’t know general car maintenance
  15. I don’t know if life is meaningful or meaningless
  16. I don’t know what it feels like to stroll around Paris
  17. I don’t know how to avoid the occasional downswing
  18. I don’t know how to write a bestseller
  19. I don’t know if it’s better to work in short bursts or long slogs
  20. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship

That’s just a sampling, off the top of my head. Let’s not forget all the things I don’t know that I don’t know yet. That would make for an infinitely longer list 😉

Some folks come to this blog looking for advice on how to live their lives. Sorry, I have no idea. I’m still figuring out how to live mine. The best I can do is share what works for me, and what doesn’t. Hopefully you get something useful out of that.

I don’t even know about the stuff I do know about

Take web design for example. I consider myself an ace at CSS and the like, but I often have to google for answers. Yeah, this is something I consider myself an expert at and I’m still having to go ask Google for help.

And that’s okay. I don’t have to know everything. I believe it’s more important to have a strong imagination, a willingness to learn, and a healthy dose of proactivity.

There’s a story about Henry Ford that I absolutely love. Back in 1919 he sued a Chicago newspaper for libel after they referred to him as “an ignorant idealist” because of his opposition to the US involvement in World War I. As part of their defense, the newspaper’s attorneys set out to prove that Ford was indeed ignorant by putting him on the stand and asking him a series of general knowledge questions. Ford admitted that he couldn’t answer most of them, but noted that he had the means to, with the touch of a button, summon to his aid people who could supply any knowledge he desired.

Ford understood that he didn’t need to know everything. All he needed to know was how to find answers to specific questions in a timely manner.

Book knowledge vs. real knowledge

If you had asked me about marketing back in January I would have had lots to tell you. I’d been following a bunch of marketing blogs for a while and had read a couple of Seth Godin’s books. Everything made perfect sense. I was sure I got it.

But now it’s August and I’ve come to realize how little I really learned from all my reading. I did a pretty terrible job of marketing my online course, and I’m finding it tougher than expected to get the word out about my latest project.

I thought I knew a lot about marketing, but it’s become apparent that I don’t. That gap between theory and true knowledge is even bigger than I suspected.

I am learning though, gradually getting better at this marketing lark. And it’s not because of some super-fantastic new ebook that I stumbled upon, but because I’ve been taking action, allowing myself to fail, and trying hard to learn from my mistakes.

There’s that quote from Benny Franklin that rings especially true right here:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Get yourself involved and you’ll find out pretty quick how real your knowledge is.

Be aware of how little you know

I believe the smartest people in the world are those who realize how clueless they really are. That doesn’t mean they feel stupid all the time and are constantly second-guessing themselves. It simply means that they remain open to new ideas and experiences, they test their assumptions and allow themselves to be proven wrong.

They don’t derive their confidence from knowing more than other people, but from knowing they can adapt to whatever life throws at them.

Those three words

So, what are the three most intelligent words in the English language? Well, I’ve used them several times throughout this post, but no worries if you can’t figure it out. There’s no shame in not knowing. You can always ask in the comments 😉

What don’t you know?

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    1. Love this post!

      One thing you do know is how to put yourself out there for the world to see. 🙂

      I’ll list ten things I don’t know that I’d like to know…sort of as a motivator.

      1. I don’t know how to speak French well.

      2. I don’t know how to make my project a sustainable, profitable business.

      3. I don’t know the best way to comfort my ailing dog.

      4. I don’t know where my dad is since he passed away.

      5. I don’t know who my next long-term romantic partner will be.

      6. I don’t know how to make my own tea blends.

      7. I don’t know how to take care of plants.

      8. I don’t know how to market my web site well.

      9. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now.

      10. I don’t know what to do for my birthday in 19 days.

      Hmm. Interesting. While I wrote that list I discovered that some things I wanted to write as not knowing I couldn’t because I actually do know or at least I know how to start knowing but I’m just now willing to do them at this time for whatever reason. I must look at that. :/

      • That same thing happened to me while I was writing my list! I guess we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that we don’t know things when in fact we’re just not willing to make learning or doing a priority. Not all the time of course, but it seems to be true for a lot of things.

        Thanks for the comment, Kai!

    2. I like your honesty to admit there’s so much we don’t know. I feel like I’m constantly living on the tip of the iceberg!

      Kai’s is a good idea. I’ll jot down a list of my own:

      1. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

      2. I don’t know what the future holds.

      3. I don’t know how to take my blog to the next level.

      4. I don’t know why I procrastinate so much on things I don’t mind doing.

      5. I don’t know how I ended up following you and a whole bunch of cool people on Twitter.

      6. I don’t know if I’ll have children.

      7. I don’t know why death scares me so much.

      8. I don’t know how many days I have left.

      9. I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

      10. I don’t know Finnish.

      Funny eh, the things that come up straight from your head and heart without thinking them through or editing them or toning them down. I like that rawness in writing.

      This reminds me of Alanis Morissette singing “You live, you learn…”

    3. really liked this post. especially (the part that really rings true for me) where you say the smartest people in the world are those who realize how clueless they really are. so many major conflicts came from people believing they had the answers, rather than they questions. it’s something i’ve never understood about religion (and hence has driven me away from it), seemingly every single missionary chap you talk to on the street is utterly convinced that theirs is the one and only way. they KNOW that they’re right. but the 2nd guy down the street KNOWS that the first guy is wrong, and that he himself is right. same with the 3rd guy and so on and so forth. it makes no sense at all, and drives me mad. remaining open is the only way forward. there’s always going to be a smarter person with different opinion…so how can you ever be sure? i think you can’t.

      oh, and nice tan.

      • Haha, what tan? I think it’s just from the neck up 😛

        Definitely feeling you on the religion thing. I pumped out a paragraph about that when I was free writing this article, but took it out during my edits. The same thing you mentioned bothers me about religion, and plenty of other things in the world. They say knowledge is power, but it can cause a whole lot of problems when people cling to it and refuse to question it.

        Thanks for the comment.

      • Haha, hadn’t seen that video before. I actually get what he’s trying to say, but he could probably have done a better job of explaining it.

        And thanks for the kind words, Marc. Much appreciated.

      • That’s one of the main reasons I’m so looking forward to my RTW trip. I truly believe that travel is one of the best learning experiences anyone can have. But I don’t know that for sure 😉

        Cheers for the comment, man.

    4. I don’t know so much, like how to start my own website, how to run my own company, what it means to be in a long-term relationship, or how it feels to do 2000 bethaks. But I’m okay with that, because I know that over time, if I work at it, I can achieve all my goals.

      The most powerful thing that “I don’t know” gives you is the freedom to find out and do something about it. Until then, we’re just bluffing.

        • I think its empowering because it takes you off the “hook”… People who say they know, or pretend they do, leave themselves open to questioning and being “found out”. If on the other hand you immediately say I don’t know the answer to that, or whatever… you are disarming the person you are talking to, and again, humility is a great tool for disarming people… To be honest, if you say I don’t know, there is not really any expectation, other than perhaps, you will go one of two ways… one, you will try and find out so you do know, or two, you just don’t know, and you don’t really care… Its nice. It simplifies things. When you pretend to know, you are possibly going to have to come up with even more extraordinary situations to get yourself out of it…. again, its about basically having the balls to just admit when you dont know, and realising its ok… again, it reminds me of the situation on Friends… where Chandler’s boss keeps calling him by another name, and rather than Chandler correcting him the first time, gets caught up in this ever more extraordinary situation. Its a funny one to watch, but also so so true. Lies beget more lies. I know its not exactly an “I dont know” situation, but it is a situation where you have to stop something from getting out of hand, by being honest with yourself and the people around you. You know, I have gone kind of off point, and I could go back and edit this comment, but I don’t think I will in the spirit of rabblement and all that…but I hope my meandering thoughts here were somewhat entertaining to you… 🙂

        • I always enjoy reading your comments, thanks for sharing.

          And that’s a big part of it for me, too: letting myself off the hook. It’s so draining pretending to be someone else and worrying about being exposed. So much easier to just be yourself from the outset.

    5. I absolutely love this post!

      I won’t make a list of the things I don’t know, so long it’d be… but, unlike a while ago I was embarrassed about what I ignore, now I am cool when I realize I don’t know something, because that motivates me to find out, e.g. when I realized who bad I was in geography and I dedicated a while every day to learn the countries, capital cities, flags, provinces and physical features of the world. That’s just an example, but I’m going to reveal you a secret: I have an incredibly bad memory, that’s why I keep a list of the things I don’t know and I have to solve. It’s a growing list, with few lines crossed off that includes tasks from “learning more about the first half of the XXth Spanish history” to “learning how to socialize better and speak in public and not die in the attempt”. Will I ever find the time to cross off all the lines? Well, I don’t know…

    6. 1. I don’t know how to start this comment because…

      2. I don’t know how I would be able to tell you how much I relate to this post and..

      3. I don’t know how I would be able to tell you how much i wanted to thank you for posting this