I’d like to understand the sentence in bold here, which is from an interview with the frontman of a UK band.

And then he looks earnestly across the table. “I’m constantly looking for things to reaffirm what’s going on and give me some confidence,” he says, “because I don’t know what I’m doing.” This seems a deeply unlikely thing for Healy to say. The 1975’s career appears to have gone without a hitch from the moment they chose to stop being a punky emo band as teenagers and settled on their signature sound: a sleek, 80s-influenced pop-rock hybrid. Their eponymous 2013 debut album went platinum in the UK and the US; they began headlining festivals, a feat of crowdpleasing unimpeded by releasing albums as confounding as Notes on a Conditional Form (22 tracks, a contribution from Greta Thunberg, experiments with abstract electronics, gospel, screamo, UK garage) and the years Healy spent addicted to heroin.

I know the phrase “I know what’s I’m doing” means something like I can do something well by myself. But here does he mean that he literally doesn’t know what he’s doing? Or is he just saying that he doesn’t have confidence in what he’s doing?

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    He just means exactly that. Read the previous sentence. People say that all the time.
    – Lambie
    Oct 24, 2022 at 0:00

1 Answer 1


Yes, as you suggest it is almost certainly a simple expression of lack of confidence. However in this, and in fact most contexts, the phrase can sometimes also represent a mild form of false humility. That is, the person does know what they are doing, and they (and everyone else) know that they know what they are doing, but they express some lack of knowledge so as not to appear arrogant.

Deciding exactly how much one should attribute to the speaker having a genuine lack of confidence on the one hand, versus it being a "gee, shucks, what do I know" attempt to appear humble on the other hand, is subtle and depends on context, tone, and so on. But typically I reckon there is more of the first, and less (and sometimes zero) of the second.

  • I see. That makes sense now. Thanks so much for the explanation. Oct 24, 2022 at 4:51

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