The Benefit of Ignorance

When I pulled together last year’s revenue numbers for Four Minute Books, I was shocked. Overall, revenue had grown 15% or so, which was nice. But when I looked at how that growth came about, I almost threw my hands up in despair.

One of the main sources of revenue for the past seven years had dropped by a whopping 30%. At the same time, a new income stream, which we had only introduced in August the year before, now accounted for 46% of the total, overtaking the other one in the process.

In theory, that is good news. In practice, it’s also terrifying. What if we hadn’t set up that income stream? What if it hadn’t grown so much? What if I had seen the other revenue decline in real-time? My big takeaway from this accounting session was that, sometimes, it’s better not to know.

If I had a constant, acute awareness of how our differing income streams rise and crash, constantly meandering into different compositions, all I would do is fret all day long. “What if this doesn’t recover? What if that doesn’t work out? What if, what if, what if?

Meanwhile, if I just spend my time working, doing, trying, things usually work out in the long run. There’ll always be a few “that was dumb” and “that was smart” moments at the end of each year, but as long as I stay focused, I’ll be okay.

The benefit of ignorance is that you can’t worry about what you don’t know. In fact, there’s enough to worry about looking at everything you don’t know, and in today’s, “here’s some anxiety with your breakfast” world, the Stoic practice of “focus on what you can control” seems more relevant than ever.

Ignorance comes in many flavors, but the best one by far is when we treat it like an art: Most of the time, it’s okay not to know, and, actually, only when you don’t know can you still pursue your ideal goal in its unbroken state.

Don’t let knowledge shatter your dreams too early. Keep your head down, try your best, and enjoy both the shock and wonder when you finally look at the numbers.