The challenge is how to make the transformation from being to becoming, from the known to the unknown. <i>Illustration: Kerrie Leishman</i>The challenge is how to make the transformation from being to becoming, from the known to the unknown.Illustration: Kerrie Leishman

A new year, a new you is a gratingly irritating phrase that I can’t help mishearing as a new ewe.  The phrase holds out the promise that we can be the masters of our transformations, but that is questionable at best.

The challenge is how to make the transformation from being to becoming, from the known to the unknown.   Author Nassim Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, identified four forms of knowing that are relevant to career change:  what I know I know; what I know I don’t know; what I don’t know I know and finally what I don’t know I don’t know.

Obviously we are most familiar with what we know we know – this captures our conscious knowledge, skills, abilities and experience. Sometimes we know exactly what we want to do and what we are capable of.  This is the basis for traditional career planning.

The trouble is, not all of us know what we want, what we are capable of, and we are not happy with the status quo.  Making plans under these conditions will likely lead to repeating the same mistaken patterns, frustration and unnecessary compromise.


What we know we don’t know helps us identify development and learning needs.  Curiosity, experience, exploration, learning and training are all good responses that may open up new career opportunities.  However, there is much more that we are unaware of than we realise.  There may be better opportunities and these could be under our nose.

What we don’t know we know is the tacit knowledge and the tacit skills we possess. Generally developed through experience, or perhaps a natural talent that we have taken for granted, or have never used, these unappreciated strengths can transform our lives if deployed purposefully.  This is where people around us or teachers, coaches and counsellors can be so useful in helping us appreciate these untapped assets.

Finally there is what you do not know do not you know.  The uncertain, surprise or chance events that have the capacity to transform your life. Such events are surprisingly common in most careers (both good and bad), and demand new approaches to careers beyond (not instead of) planning.  Remaining open to opportunities, having strategies to experiment and explore as well as fall-back strategies are all important.

Embracing uncertainty, seeing failure as endeavour, and recognising the limits of control and planning are all elements of appreciating the complexity of ourselves and the careers we live.

If we want to move beyond the patterns and habits of our lives,  if we are prepared to take risks to achieve beyond our knowledge and wildest dreams, we must reduce our demands for certainty.  A new year, an unpredictably new you – if you dare to embrace uncertainty.  Does that make you a little sheepish?

Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and an owner of Bright and Associates.