The Freedom of Not Knowing
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Before I began my own therapy journey 10 years ago, I tried everything I could to sort things out on my own. I’ve always been fairly self-aware and self-reflective, so much so that I found it hard to imagine how therapy could add much value. There’s nothing a therapist can tell me that I haven’t already thought about or analyzed myself, I thought. What’s the point?
Over time, however, I realized that my self-awareness and personal reflections weren’t giving me the answers I sensed I needed. When the questions within me became too great, I decided it was time to reach out for help. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go or where it would lead, but I knew it was time to take a step forward. “I hope counseling will help me sort out the jumbled thoughts in my mind,” I told my therapist in an email, “and help me move forward in a positive direction.”
That’s about as specific as I could be at the time. When my therapist asked me in our first meeting (much like I ask my new clients now), “What are your hopes and goals for therapy?” I imagine that my response was something along the lines of “I’m not quite sure.” It took everything in me to reach out for help in the first place - now I was expected to share all the reasons why!? I didn’t even know the answers myself, much less be able to share them. I just knew that something needed to change.
It’s not uncommon to begin therapy and not know quite what to do and where to go. Like Alice when she met the Cheshire Cat, sometimes all we know is that we’re in a strange or difficult place, and need to get somewhere else. Perhaps we know that we are feeling unhappy, unsettled, uncertain - or like Alice, feeling completely lost. We’ve tried everything we know to fix the problem ourselves, but nothing seems to be working. Our knowing has reached its limits, and like Alice, we aren’t sure which way to go from here.
It’s okay not to know. In fact, as the Cheshire Cat wisely suggests, there can be great freedom in not knowing. When we approach change and growth from a space of curiosity and openness, we have more room to embrace possibility. When we free ourselves from the constraints of perfection and the burden of having to know all the answers, we open ourselves to new ways of thinking and being in the world.
Many of my clients begin therapy much like I did - knowing that something needs to change, but not sure where to go from there. Some have specific goals in mind, others come because they value their mental and emotional wellbeing, and know that therapy can help them grow. I encourage each client to approach the process from a place of compassionate curiosity, remaining open to where the journey may lead them. It’s not a quick process, but time after time I have seen - both in my own life and in the lives of many others - that when we take that first step into the unknown, and “walk long enough” along the path toward self-discovery, we are bound to find ourselves growing, changing, and discovering all kinds of possibilities we didn’t even know were there.
If you’re considering taking the next step and reaching out for help, I encourage you to give me a call or shoot me an email. It’s okay to not have all the answers yet. We can talk about the process, and explore what opportunities may help you along your path. Whether it’s myself, another mental health professional, or other support options, know that there are many resources available to help you find your way, and you never have to journey alone.