By Sarah Stephany | Associate director, EDEN+ Fundraising Consulting 

I remember my mother’s voice, frantic and scrambled as she replayed the latest frustration from her new job to me through the phone. "My boss expects me to know all of it, to be able to answer all of our client’s questions. But, Sarah — there is just so much to know. I’m so new to everything, and every property is different." 

I have to hand it to my mom. She began a new career in real estate at age 51 after a lifetime of teaching elementary students and raising a family. She wanted something new, but now that she had it, she felt like it was all breaking down right in front of her.

I listened, sitting at my own fairly new, full-time-big-kid-job-desk. Her story continued, but through the rise and fall of each frustration, I could hear one thing louder than anything else: She was afraid to admit she needed help.

"Mom," I hesitated, "I don’t think you’re expected to know everything. You just began."

Her pace quickened. "Oh, I know, I know. It’s just that …" The insecurities flowed rapidly, as we know they tend to do. And I knew what she was feeling all too well.

Rewind one year: I lived in Germany surrounded by words, culture and expectations I knew nothing about. I spent a good six months just trying to figure out what my host family was saying to each other at the dinner table each night. In ways I used to be so competent and confident, I was suddenly back to ground zero. For six long months, I was forced to admit everything that I didn’t understand, over and over and over again. 

Along the way, the German got easier, and so did admitting that I had absolutely no idea what the punchline of the joke was. 

Still today, admitting that I don’t know what you mean / what that acronym stands for / who you’re talking about isn’t easy. But it also doesn’t mean that any one of us isn’t smart, or knowledgeable, or capable. 

I can tell you that it’s lonely at first. But by setting pride aside, we give ourselves the chance not only to learn, but to begin practicing what all those we look up to already know: In an odd sort of way, exhaling that "I’m not sure what you mean" is freeing.

In that moment of vulnerability, we open ourselves up to being a learner, acknowledging that there’s still plenty of space inside ourselves to grow and expand, and yes, to even understand jokes in German. 

Sarah Stephany serves influential nonprofit organizations by delivering fundraising results. Combining her curiosity for culture, social justice and philanthropy, Sarah has collected an international perspective through work in Haiti, Spain, Malawi and Germany. Currently, Sarah lives in Des Moines and continues to practice admitting she doesn't know a lot of things while fueling up on coffee to stay awake for all there is to learn. Contact her via email.