Charlie Kaufman on not knowing anything

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Lecture and speeches are normally designed to be polished and perfected, reinforcing the idea that the lecturer is the expert and has it all figured out. The director/screenwriter Charlie Kaufman at a BAFTA screenwriters’ Lecture in 2011 began with him telling the audience that he didn’t know anything:

“So rather than being up here pretending I’m an expert in anything, or presenting myself in a way that will reinforce the odd, ritualised lecturer-lecturee model, I’m just telling you off the bat that I don’t know anything. And if there’s one thing that characterises my writing it’s that I always start from that realisation and I do what I can to keep reminding myself of that during the process. I think we try to be experts because we’re scared; we don’t want to feel foolish or worthless; we want power because power is a great disguise.”

To openly talk about not knowing and that you haven’t got all the answers is counter to what we’ve been taught. But with Imposter Syndrome being so universal – the doubt we’re not really as good as our accomplishments or experience and so could be found out as a ‘fraud – it’s refreshing to hear someone admit what we all feel deep down. This is especially true in the art-making journey where everything you make is susceptible to harsh judgment. What if you were to embrace the not-knowing aspect of where you’re headed and see being a beginner as more valuable than being an expert? (see beginners mindset as a tool for creativity)

“The world needs you. It doesn’t need you at a party having read a book about how to appear smart at parties – these books exist, and they’re tempting – but resist falling into that trap. The world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying, ‘I don’t know,’ and being kind.”

Showing up exactly as you are, with all your un-knowing and uncertainty will take a great deal of courage. The desire to be an expert instantly is strong but we have to more to offer others by being honest. Perhaps just by being yourself you give permission to others that you don’t have to have it all figured out.

“Do you. It isn’t easy but it’s essential. It’s not easy because there’s a lot in the way. In many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you are not interesting. And since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen, take it off the table. Think, ‘Perhaps I’m not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something. And by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world, because it is rare and it will help.