I have learned the most from moments where I felt like I didn’t know anything at all. When faced with a question to which there are multiple—or no—good answers, the type of questions I ask myself teach me more than any of my answers. I believe we learn more from questions than we ever do from answers.
I started my professional life as a high school English teacher in Connecticut. After three years of teaching I realized that being in the classroom was no longer where I wanted to be. But where did I want to be? The answer I had once been so certain of—that I wanted to be an English teacher—had been turned into a series of questions.
So I moved to Seattle, without a job or a plan, looking for answers. By living in that year of indecision, never feeling like I knew the answer, I learned more about myself than I ever would have if I had tried to force an answer. I learned that I was capable of moving somewhere on my own and making a life for myself; I learned that it was important to me that I find my work meaningful; and I learned that even though I no longer wanted to be a classroom teacher it was still important to me that I work in education. I don’t believe that I ever would have learned these things without allowing myself to wallow in those (often terrifying) months of questions.
One of the few things I have ever been certain about was that I would not live in Connecticut again after graduating from college; I have now been wrong on that count twice, which only solidifies my lack of faith in certainty. After a year in graduate school I find myself back in Connecticut, where I’m a school librarian, putting my love of questions to work every day.
Recently I was offered a job at the school where I had previously taught. This brought a new series of questions with ever-changing answers—Did I want to return to something I knew, or did I want to stay where I was and create something new? What was I willing to give up to have the kind of life I wanted? Since I couldn’t have everything I wanted, what areas of my happiness was I willing to compromise? What did the compromises I was willing to make say about me and my long-term happiness?
Those days and weeks of questions were excruciating, but also exhilarating. I still don’t have the answers to all of my questions, nor do I think I ever will. But for me there is a certain clarity in that uncertainty; having the answers is too much like the end, and I’m not ready for my story to be over.
I won’t tell you what decision I came to, because ultimately, for me, life is not about the answer—it’s about the moments when you don’t know the answer.