Say “I Don’t Know. I Wonder.”

I was 14 years old and suffering from a severe case of know-it-all-itis, when my high school principal, Mr. Bruckner, stopped me in the hallway and said: “Are you studying for the SATs?”


“Do you know what the word ‘esoteric’ means?”
“Uh… yeah.”
“What does it mean?”
“You don’t know what it means?”
“Oh, I know what it means. I’m asking you.”


That’s when I said heard myself say something I rarely ever said: “I don’t know.”

He smiled his sneaky Mr. Bruckner smile. And I learned something that day. I learned the word esoteric but, more importantly, I learned that I could stop feeling intimidated when I said: “I don’t know.”

And I could start learning and growing when I said: “I wonder…”

“I don’t know” is admitting that there’s room for growth – an opening – within you. And “I wonder” is holding the door open for surprises to enter and fill that space with new and fascinating things.

Research on the power of “I wonder” supports my high school hallway hypothesis. It turns out that we experience things more intensely, learn more, and feel more interested when we simply repeat the words “I wonder” in our minds as we watch and listen.

So here’s my mission to you this week: find at least three opportunities to say “I don’t know. I wonder.” Where will this experiment take you? What new people will you meet? What will you learn? And in what unexpected ways will you be ever so slightly changed by this experience? I don’t know. I wonder…



  1. “Wonder” has become hidden in idiom, a passive sensation, like “I wonder if I’m doing this correctly”as though the wondering is just an afterthought of your state of mind, a passive observation. Separating it out like you do into the declarative, “I wonder” makes me think that there is power in just that intentional declaration. You commit to actively wondering, not as a marker of being perplexed, but as a positive statement. What am I doing? I wonder.

    • Steve, yes! As always, you’ve managed to find new insights within my insights. You are right: we can shift out of passive wondering into active wondering. In fact, wondering is very active from a neural standpoint (it’s a lot of cognitive work).When I say “I wonder” I am allowing my brain to be fully engaged and activated by the environment or idea that I’m wondering at. I think it’s also important that we allow ourselves to actively wonder for a while before forcing ourselves to return to a state of knowing.

      Technically speaking wondering is a pathway to knowing, but it is far more delightful when we can handle sticking around on the path instead of rushing to the destination.

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