When I was a teenager, I heard a comedian on television joke that the big news that week was that squeaky-clean newlywed singer Marie Osmond “consummated her marriage.” He was using a word I was unfamiliar with, so I pulled the dictionary off the shelf and tried to look it up, giving my best guess as to the spelling. I was on the right track, but the closest I could get was, “consommé: a clear soup that is usually made with seasoned meat”. Thus I ended up very confused for a few years about what exactly was supposed to happen on the wedding night.
Fortunately, I realized my mistake well before my own wedding. But I would have saved myself a period of puzzlement if I had just thought to question my phonetic spelling ability. I didn’t do that at the time, because I just accepted perplexity as part of the learning process. I just figured that there were some things you couldn’t understand right away, and that you just had to live with that befuddlement until you developed the wisdom necessary to sort it out. If you ever did.
That is certainly true for things like quantum mechanics and multivariate calculus. But in a lot of realms, we accept perplexity when we do not need to, when thought or investigation would make things clearer in relatively short order. People accept that office politics is inscrutable, or that it is impossible to know why no one is picking up their resumes, or that they will never be able to figure out how to pursue their dreams and still make a decent living — and once they accept something like that, they lose the will to even try to comprehend.
Perhaps in part this attitude is a relic from childhood, when everything really was incomprehensible for a time. I think that’s why I accepted the image of Marie Osmond consommé-ing her new husband and left it at that. But by the time we are adults, most of us have come to grapple with, understand, and even master all kinds of previously unknown areas of knowledge. We learn that we all have weaknesses, to be sure, but in general most of us demonstrate that we are capable of coming to grips with most of what we encounter in life. So if, after all that, we are reflexively assuming that there are certain things we just cannot grasp, there has to be something else in play there — maybe fear, maybe self-doubt, maybe indifference.
Whatever that mystery factor is, it has little to do with your actual ability to comprehend what you might need to know. So set aside your acceptance of perplexity. Tell yourself you can — you will — understand the things you need to succeed. Why should you accept the idea that you cannot figure out how to navigate your career, how to flourish, how to be fulfilled? You have figured out so much in life already. You have every reason to assume confidently that you can figure out how to be content in your work.