Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

The Advantage of Ignorance

Here is an excuse we need to delete from daily use: “I don’t know what I am doing.”

I can’t write a book because I don’t know how.
I can’t start a business because I don’t know how.
I can’t raise a family because I don’t know how.
I can’t launch a project because I don’t know how.

It’s time for these excuses to stop. Ignorance is not a wall between you and your dream. It is a doorway. And if you walk through, it can be one of your greatest assets.

Photo by Evan Leeson (Creative Commons)

Photo by Evan Leeson (Creative Commons)

When you don’t know what you’re doing, you attempt things you might not have the guts to try otherwise.

In 2009, I moved my family from Atlanta, Georgia to Sarajevo, Bosnia. We knew the transition would be difficult but the positives outweighed the negatives. We were excited to be on this adventure together.

Over the past 5 years, we have discovered difficulties we never imagined would be part of living in another country. In fact, this whole adventure has been more challenging than we ever envisioned.

Learning language is harder.
Raising kids is harder.
Fitting in is harder.

I wonder if we would have moved had we known the full picture of the difficulty. I am glad we didn’t. Our ignorance allowed us to discover the harsh realities of cross-cultural living in stages. We discovered we can handle more than we ever imagined.

What if we would have refused to move? We would have also missed out on all the great things about living overseas. We were ignorant of many positives too.

I wonder if President Kennedy would have made the moon landing such a key element of his presidency had he known how difficult it would be. But he did. And NASA did. And the world changed.

When you don’t know what you are doing, you don’t know what you can’t do.

In 2010, during our second year in Bosnia, I decided to write a book. I had no idea how difficult that would be. I figured it was just a collection of sentences put into paragraphs and organized by chapter. I set aside 10 hours a week and thought I could get it done in a year.

Six months later, my beard was turning grey as I slogged through pages of notes morning after morning. Writing a book was the hardest thing I had ever done. I had no idea what I was doing. There I was, an American man, writing a book about a British woman, who started a school for Bosnian girls in the time of the Ottoman empire. Why in the world did I think I could write a book about that?

Because I was ignorant. And thank God for my ignorance. Without out it, Meeting Miss Irby would not be published and sold in bookstores throughout Bosnia and the story of this courageous woman would not be in our time.

I didn’t know what I couldn’t do. So I did it.

Read more about my experience writing a book here. “You don’t have to know what you are doing, if you know what you want to do.”

When you don’t know what you are doing, you are more likely to rely on the help of others rather than your own abilities.

Self-confidence is important. But you will accomplish more with humility. Self-sufficient people don’t ask for help. Eventually, they find themselves fighting battles alone.

With both our Bosnia move and the book, success depended on the talent and support of those around us. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I was open to their help. The sum of our resources and skills far out weighed anything I could muster on my own.

This also applies to God. When I think I know what I am doing, I don’t  stop to pray. I just do it. But when I am face to face with my own ignorance, I am on my knees begging for rescue. This is why incapable people accomplish more than capable ones. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I would much rather have God’s help than self-help. With God, I don’t need to know what I am doing.

So let’s delete the ignorance excuse from our repertoire. The only way to know what you’re capable of is to try.

What are other advantages of ignorance? Share in the comments.

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  • I would say that ignorance allows us the opportunity to think something is easier than it is. This works for optimists. For pessimists it has the opposite effect. They refuse to proceed because they just know it will be impossible.

    Liked you post and I believe there are things we can all think of which we would not have done had we known how hard it would be. But anything that’s worth anything takes work. Thanks for the post.


      Anne : you have a wonderful smile ! Looking at your posts helped me going back on my track. I started to write two years ago and stopped but I feel it’s time to move and stand up against my fear and discouragment. Sorry, my english is not so perfect. I’m french and I write in french. Blessings

    • Josh

      It is interesting how pessimists and optimists respond differently. There are many things I look back on and think: how in the world did I pull that off? Perhaps a “smarter” person wouldn’t have tried.

  • Josh – food for my spirit in this post; putting the blinders on and making like a Nike salesman….JUST DO IT seem to fit here…thanks for sharing!

    • Joshua Irby

      You got it . . . if you have to fall, fall forward.


    Josh : you can’t imagine how accurate your post is. I’m just struggling with much doubt and self-pity. Started my book 2 years ago , wrote 200 pages and then stopped… I feel it’s time to move forward and let my creativity and my heart be released… But, God, it’s so hard. I just have to do it. Don’t need to think to much about it. Josh, it’s good to hear this simple truth : no matter difficult things seem to be… never never give up. Thanks for you post

    • Joshua Irby

      Wow, you’ve already got 200 pages! don’t stop now. Even if no one ever reads it, think how good it will feel to FINISH. Think how much you will learn in the process. And, who knows, it might be the next big thing. . .