Not Knowing What You’re Doing Is The Very Definition of The Human Condition

I get angry at the self-help/personal dev industry sometimes. Success Strategy this and 5 Ways to Transform Your Life that, all so much garbage in that it perpetuates the idea that someone, somewhere has all the answers.

It makes me feel stabby.

But for the sake of keeping it classy, I’m going to spit out some Latin. You will ignore the pretentiousness of this and agree that I am classy. I’m stabby, remember?

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

There. That’s what a university education in the humanities gets you– — — a seven-syllable phrase in a dead language that says, “You pulled that explanation out of your ass.”

More kindly stated, it means that just because b followed a, does not necessarily mean that a caused b.

Bear with me, this is complex.

This means that when you say things like “Do X to get Y results” even if you say “I did X and got Y, so you can too,” it doesn’t constitute proof.


Having tried a whole bunch of stuff, some that worked, some that didn’t, and eventually working your way to the place where you feel qualified to say what does and doesn’t work, based on your experience, doesn’t mean that your experience is objectively true.

Now, I’m not knocking people (people like me!) who say, here’s what works for me, here’s why I think it worked, maybe it will work for you. Even if you state it really strongly, like “The 5 Traits You MUST Have to Succeed in this Economy!”

I’m rapping my knuckles on the skulls of those who feel like failures because what worked for some other guy didn’t work for them. It’s ludicrous!

This is why Logic should be a curriculum class.

All anybody who gives you advice is working on is a theory. It may be an extremely strong theory, with a lot of evidence to back it up (I like to think mine are).

It may be a crappy little theory with holes big enough to drive a bus through (here’s one I saw last week. Do NOT get me started.)

Even this article is merely a theory. I could be wrong. I could be right. Most likely, I’m objectively neither of those things but I’m hoping the theory has enough merit to overcome its obvious drawbacks.

And what’s the moral of all this?

Nobody Knows What They’re Doing. Nobody Has the Answers.

At best, they’ve got a working theory.

The reason this is applicable is that I see people shooting themselves in the foot every goddamn day because they don’t know what they’re doing and they think this means they’re not ready; not ready to start, not ready for success, whatever.

Now, I realize that few people actually come right out and say, “Yeah, I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Pretty much winging it, if you want to know the truth. I hope it’s going to all work out, but your guess is as good as mine.”

But that’s the reality. We’re all just doing the things we figure will help us create our desired outcomes.

If we get success, however we define it, we then turn around and start reverse engineering our success. Why? Because we’re all a bunch of control freaks. We can’t stand the idea that we didn’t directly influence our success by something we did or didn’t do. We refuse to believe it was a complete fluke.

And what’s more is nobody wants to believe it might be a fluke. Even people who are like “haha! what do experts know?” (people like me!) still obsessively create theories about what works and doesn’t work about their lives.

I’ve ranted way too long about this already, but here’s what I came to say:

Darlings, if you’re holding back on anything until the day when you feel like you know what you’re doing, please know, that day will NEVER come. Never.

You’ll just get used to winging it.

Sarah Goshman and I are having a free teleclass on the subject of dealing with overwhelm: Permission Slips for Perfectionists, Overacheivers and Control Freaks: Strategies to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Your Own Success. If this sounds like a topic you’re familiar with, we’d love to have you along to jam with us Wed, April 18. Click the link to sign up!


9 thoughts on “Not Knowing What You’re Doing Is The Very Definition of The Human Condition”

  1. Hahaha, this is awesome, Shanna. I completely agree. And actually, it seems freeing to think of life this way… it’s not going to be perfect, you don’t have to know how to do it right to get started… mmm… of course, perfectionist me who likes to study a language for at least 10 years before she actually tries to speak it is crying… but she’ll be okay. 🙂

    1.  @sarahemily Perfectionists are terrified of that kind of freedom. 🙂 It’s great that you can find an answer to almost everything online, but it really lends itself to a sort of paralysis that you’re sure only just a little more knowledge will cure. 
      It’s a scourge, I tell you, a scourge!

  2. Print this and put it on the ‘fridge – to read every-single-day for a while!
    I’m getting better at remembering it, though 🙂

  3. I’m reminded of this every time I look down at my ankles.
    I’ve dealt with my own perfectionism, capped off with the fact that my father specialized in quality control and production control in electronics, which basically means “find out what’s wrong and fix it.” If it works for resisters and circuits it must work for people, right?
    Then one day (40 years later) I woke up and realized that I have no idea if there are birds in that bush until I chuck a rock in and see if they fly out. So, I chuck a lotta rocks and see what flies out.
    Wearing mistmatched neon socks reminds me how powerfully most people react to such a simple act of discord. We’re all looking for perfect matches, everything sorted thank you very much, just what we expected.
    Then I look down at my socks and remember that I’m probably not even driving this bus, so I may as well do what I can to enjoy the ride.

    1.  @spinhead I love that you wear mismatched socks as reminder … and a trigger for those who are a tad ocd. 🙂

  4. “…few people actually come right out and say, ‘Yeah, I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Pretty much winging it, if you want to know the truth.’ ” 
    Wonder why *that* is?

    1.  @Karen J ’cause they don’t want to appear ignorant. We have this massive need to always look like we have the answers. Humility is rare.
      I say “I don’t know” all the time, and it surprises people.

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