You don’t know what you don’t know. Someone said that to me as they were trying to sell me a training course years ago and it got me thinking as well as annoying me! What does that actually mean?

There are things I take for granted now that I didn’t even know existed when I was younger let alone even thought they were possible for me to achieve!

Alan Donegan

Alan didn’t even know it was possible!

Even now at 44 there is SO much that I know I don’t know about, let alone the stuff I don’t know I don’t know!

​How do you know what exists, how do you know what is possible for you and how do you get comfortable having a go?

The purpose of this blog post is to help you see ways of doing things you never even knew existed and inspire you to have a go.  Let’s start with…….

The Awareness Zone

Back when I was starting my business around 2008, my friend Ashley set me up with a meeting with one of his mentors at the Institute of Directors (IOD) in London.  I was building a training business and this guy did training and coaching for large organisations.

I put on my suit, ironed my shirt and headed off to London on the train. I made my way over to Pall Mall and into the IOD.  I felt excited going into this grand old building and to be surrounded by other company directors. I met with Matt and we chatted for an hour or so.  He blew my mind that he was earning more than £400,000 a year and taking the entire of August off every year!  An entire month off every year and normal holiday as well!

I had never heard of anything like it at the time.  Someone taking an entire month off and not working! It blew my mind.  I was not even aware that this existed let alone thinking it was possible for me to do to it.   Before the meeting it wasn’t in my awareness zone, let alone my zone of possibility.

That meeting expanded my zone of awareness to include taking month long holidays and earning more money that I dreamt of!  I didn’t yet believe it was possible to take a month off every year and more holiday but at least I was aware of the concept!

Fast forward 14 years and I live in a different world where it is not only possibly but normal to take extended trips and breaks.  In fact I never have to work again if I don’t want to!

Everyone has different awareness zones of what can be achieved or not.  When you are young you don’t even know that certain things are possible.  You just aren’t aware.

Have you ever played one of those strategy games where you start on a small area of a map and everything around you is black?

I loved playing Civilisation, a computer game on the Commodore Amiga, when I was younger. I may be dating myself here!  You started off with one group of Settlers and only being able to see a few squares around you.  You could only see a tiny part of the map when you started.  Your entire world was the few spaces around you.  I feel like this is the same in real life.

When you first come into this world your entire world is your cot and gradually you explore more and more………….


Civilisation: Strategy game

You grow up in the town or village that you are born in and that is what you know. You don’t know anything outside of that, or are even aware that this is a bigger world out there.  You are just existing in your world.

At some point you become aware that there is a bigger world out there and you start to explore the surrounding areas and towns and your zone of awareness expands.

You become aware of different areas, businesses, ways of living and more. As you grow up your zone of awareness naturally expands.

Just being aware doesn’t mean you are actually going to do something about it but at least you are aware their is a bigger world out there.

In the game you do the same thing starting to explore the areas around you and uncover the map.


Slowly you start to expand the areas you know and understand

I think the next stage occurs when you realise that there is a giant world out there that you know nothing about.  It is all still in the black and you realise that your town is not the centre of the universe and there is so much more out there.

You realise that your world is surrounded by these big areas that you have no idea about at all.


You know there is so much more out there but you don’t know anything about it yet

You are surrounded by lots of things you don’t know about and as you learn more you start to realise how much you don’t know!

One of my favourite examples of this comes from my business partner Simon.  He lives in a small town near Leicester, England and was telling his son about London.  He was trying to explain how big London was and to make a comparison said “there are 5 coffee shops in our town, how many do you think are in London?”

His son replied “I don’t know; 25?”

Alan Donegan in the black

Alan in the black. How do you even know the options out there?
​There is so much I don’t know or understand yet, but I am at least aware some of it exists.  The funny thing that has happened for me is that the more I learn, the more I have realise I don’t know!

Most people aren’t even aware of the options available to them

I truly believe that most people aren’t even aware of the options they have available to them out in the world.  They have no idea of what is out there in the undiscovered map of life.  Here are some examples from my life and other people I knew:

  • Passive income.  I wasn’t even aware of the concept of passive income and earning money without working for it until mid-twenties.  It didn’t exist on my map of the world until I read about it in a self-development book
  • Financial independence.  I had no idea this existed or even what it was until my mid-thirties.  It wasn’t on my map at all.  I thought I would be in full time employment or running my own business till I was 65. I wasn’t even aware early retirement was a thing!
  • Geo-Arbitrage.  I didn’t realise it was possible to earn money in my currency and then spend it in a currency where you can buy twice as much!  This was put on my map by reading Tim Ferriss’s book the Four Hour Work Week and then I really saw the power of it with Millennial Revolution (Kristy and Bryce) being able to retire in their 30s by travelling around the world and using geo-arbitrage!
  • Running your own business.  This one was always on my map because my dad ran a business as I grew up.  It was something I knew about and had experienced in my early years.  So my map was heavily influenced by the experience I had when I was younger and watching the people around me.
  • Starting a business for free.  Most people think it costs a lot of money to start a business and the option of doing it with no money doesn’t even exist on most people’s maps!  This is why the first day of The Rebel Business School is so powerful because people see a whole new way of doing things that wasn’t even in their awareness before the session.  I love the feeling of running a session and seeing people’s faces light up as they see new ways of doing things.
  • Montevideo, capital of Uruguay.  I didn’t even know this city existed till this week. I was looking at going to Argentina and scrolling around google maps and saw the name which made me laugh and then I looked it up. Now I am flying there with Katie in 2 months time to explore.

There are so many things that weren’t even on my world map when I was younger.  I had no idea that they even existed.  You don’t know what you don’t know.


In my Early twenties my zone of awareness was so small. I didn’t know what was even possible
I had no idea what was outside my zone of awareness and all the amazing things there were out their in the world.  I was in my own small world and I was blissfully unaware.

How do you expand your awareness?

You don’t know what you don’t know!  So how do you expand what you know about? There are so many ways to do it.  Some of the most impactful for me have been books, courses, podcasts, groups and blogs.   I have laid them out on a very scientific zone of awareness map that I drew below:


I started in my little zone of awareness in the corner of the map and as I read, met people and travelled my zone of awareness expanded and expanded.

The main tools I used for expanding my awareness zone where:

  1. Books – self-development books changed my life and taught me so much about what is possible and what isn’t possible.  They blew my mind with the success stories and examples of what people achieve.  For a list of books that changed my life click here
  2. Financial Independence blogs – I didn’t even know what financial independence was until a friend of mine called Matt sent me a link to Mr Money Mustache’s blog and told us to read it.  This changed my life and showed me possibilities I didn’t even know existed!
  3. Travel – getting out of England and travelling around the world to see different places expanded my awareness zone and showed me different lifestyles and different ways of living.  This, I believe, has helped me to become a more rounded person and understand more about what I do and don’t enjoy.
  4. People – The people I have met through training courses, Toastmasters, The financial independence community and just travelling around the world have opened my eyes to so many possibilities and options.    Katie and I have realised over the years that the people make the travel so we now travel around meeting as many people as possible.

The more I travel, learn, read and meet people the more I am inspired by the incredible and endless possibilities in the world.  It is truly amazing what you can do or experience.  But if you haven’t gotten out there you wouldn’t even know some of these things existed!

​You will be the same person tomorrow as you are today except for the books you read, people you meet and courses you go on.  Start learning and growing and seeing what is possible.

Zone of possibility

Then comes the second step.  Even if you are aware of something as an option you might not think of it as possible for you!  The option is in your zone of awareness but not your zone of possibility so you never even give it a go.

In the opening example Matt opened my eyes to the possibility of taking a month off in the summer every year.  I was aware of it but I didn’t believe it was possible for me at that stage.

You need to be aware of the options and then think it is possible for you to achieve it.  I know a lot of people that are aware of the ideas of starting a business or a podcast but think it is not possible for them or that they have missed the boat.  I know lots of people that are aware of the concept of financial independence but believe it is not possible for them to achieve it because they have kids or a low paying job.

If you think it isn’t possible for you then you are never going to try to make it happen.  Our subconscious protects us from the pain of failing by making sure we don’t even start or try.

Being aware is one thing but knowing that you could achieve it is something completely different.  Time for another one of Alan’s highly scientific sketches……

You might be aware of financial independence, starting businesses or becoming nomadic but believe it is not possible for you.

Sometimes you even try something once but it goes wrong so then you put it back outside your zone of possibility.  I knew you could invest in the stock market because my dad showed me that he did it. He even helped me by getting his broker to come round and advise us both.  On his recommendation I invested my life savings in a high-tech, high growth, managed fund right before the dot com bubble!

If you don’t know what happened in the dotcom bubble; well stocks crashed and a lot of people lost money and because I was invested in an active fund it never recovered!  I lost my life savings.

This made me scared of investing in stocks and shares and sent the idea of investing out of my zone of possibility.  It moved back out into the zone of awareness or maybe even the zone of wariness! lol.

How do you expand your possibility zone?

Confidence and self belief is at the core of expanding your zone of possibility.  When I am feeling confident, I feel as though anything is possible.  I feel that I could have a go at anything and see what happens.   If I am feeling a little down or uncertain I am not going to go out there and try new things.

This is a huge subject so I am going to come back and write more about this subject another time.  Building your self-esteem, self-belief and confidence is the key to expanding your zone of possibility.

In the mean time my best suggestion for expanding your zone of possibility is to find someone who has done what you want to do and go and ask them how they did it.   Even better they might have written a blog, book or article about it.  Mr Money Mustache has achieved financial independence, read his blog or go to an event where he is speaking and learn from him.

​If you want to start a business without debt then come to a Rebel Business School and find the people that have already done it or listen to the Rebel Entrepreneur Podcast and soak up the inspiration.

Go to Toastmasters and meet people who have mastered presenting, join a meetup group on Facebook for nomads and start to ask questions. Find the people that have achieved what you want to achieve and surround yourself with them!

Why don’t people do it?

There are so many people that know about things, they are aware of it.  They also know it is possible for them to do it and achieve these things but they still don’t do it!  They still don’t take action, they still don’t make it happen!

Why is that!??

It is because it is outside their comfort zone. I can hear you saying “Alan, there are already too many zones for my liking!” This is the final zone to talk about I promised. Time for another highly scientific diagram from Alan

People can be aware of the option, think it is possible for them to achieve it but still not do it because it is uncomfortable or scary to do it.  Stocks and shares where this for me for many years, I knew about them, I knew it was possible because I had tried it but I was SUPER uncomfortable having a go at it because I lost my life savings last time round.

The comfort zone for most people tends to be the smallest out of the three and the most difficult to break out of.

This is a quote I have learned to live by over the last 10 years……….

Everything you want in life is outside your comfort zone; otherwise you’d already have it.

If you were comfortable going to get a pay rise, start a business or do your first sales pitch you would just go and do it because it isn’t scary for you.  People don’t do these things because it isn’t comfortable and scares them.

Spend a moment right now thinking about the things you want to achieve.  Maybe you want to get a promotion, change careers, get a pay rise or start to invest?  Make a list of the things you want.

Why are you still reading?  Stop and make a list of the things you want in life.

Then ask; “why haven’t I taken action to get these things?”

What’s stopping you? What needs to happen for you to start to take action?

At some level fear is involved; you might give me logical “reasons” why you haven’t done it yet; such as “the stock market is stable at the moment, now is not the time to invest!”  You may or may not be right, but what you are really saying is “I am afraid I will lose money if I invest now.”

Behind all our inaction, behind our choices and decisions is some level of fear of a negative outcome.   If you were 100% certain that asking for a promotion at work would be successful you would just go an do it.  If you were 100% certain that if you launched a business you would make money you would do it right now, there would be no stopping you.

But you aren’t 100% certain about any of these things.  You never can be.  This is the challenge.  You have to step outside your comfort zone and have a go even though you risk failure or rejection.

Everything you want in life is outside your comfort zone!   Otherwise you would already have it!

Here are a few tips to help you build the courage to get outside your comfort zone:

  1. The 3 second rule:  I get nervous before making a phone call sometimes and if I let that fear expand it can stop me taking action.  I have learnt that if I just make the phone call within 3 seconds I can bypass a lot of the nerves and get to a result.  If you want to make a call, approach someone at a networking event, send a sales email do it inside the first 3 seconds otherwise you will just talk yourself out of it!
  2. Learn more: (just don’t get trapped by analysis paralysis).  One of the best antidotes to the fear of doing something is to learn more about it, speak to someone who has done what you are afraid of, read a book about it, go on a course about it and learn more.  I wouldn’t be afraid of all snakes if I knew which were the poisonous ones!
  3. Stop learning.  Some of you that are reading this blog know too much.  You have read every book, you have met the people and been on all the courses yet for some reason you stop yourself from doing it.  You need to stop learning and start doing!  Stop thinking and take action.  Once you have read the book and learnt what you need to know do it.  Do you need to know exactly how electricity works to be able to operate the television?  NO!  You turn it on and it shows you stuff.  You don’t need to know EVERYTHING about running a business to start.  If this resonates with you then stop learning and start taking action.
  4. Confidence.  Simon (My business partner at Rebel) always repeats to me “spend as much time building your confidence as you do building your business.  Working on my confidence has been one of the most important parts of my journey.  When I was younger I couldn’t talk to strangers,  my parents would push me to talk to people and I would just want to run away.  Confidence never came easily for me.  It came from self-development books, courses, hypnosis sessions and mentors.  If you want a shot at creating an extraordinary life (which is outside your comfort zone right now) then work on your confidence.  I will write more for you soon or just start with a book on confidence.
  5. Just do it.  Nike has something with their slogan of theirs!  If you have looked at the risks of the thing you want to do and the worst that can happen is embarrassment, rejection or discomfort then just have a go.  I always believe in having a little look at the risks before diving in but if the risks aren’t too bad then you just need to do it.  Start.  Make it happen.  You don’t get motivated to do things, you get motivated by doing things.  the act of starting and doing things will give you the motivation you need to make things happen.  Stop reading this and go and have a GO!
  6. Doing it with another person.  Que smutty jokes. Sometimes it can be tough to do it all on your own; so don’t!  If you want to start a business find a friend to support you, if you want to get involved in investing then join a supportive finance group like Rebel Finance School, find a friend to test it with.  Sometimes leaving your comfort zone on your own can be tough so find supportive people to do it with.  Create a book club to learn about confidence or find a friend to do your monthly finance meeting with, it’s always better when we do things together.

Everything you want in life is outside your comfort zone, otherwise you would already have it.

The purpose of Rebel Business School, The Rebel Entrepreneur Podcast, this blog is to help you create the life of your dreams.  My goal is that you take the things you learn with us and use them to create the life you want

People go to jobs they don’t like, put up with situations that are abusive for years and then escape from them through alcohol, bubble baths, spa days or gambling.

True self-care is not looking after yourself with chocolates and a bubble bath.  TRUE self-care is building a life you don’t need to run away from.  A life that you wake up excited to live each day.

Take what you read here, learn more and then use those tools to build the life of your dreams

The extraordinary belongs to those that create it.

No one is going to hand you an extraordinary life.  That is not how it works in this world.  They don’t come round school asking “Would you like an extraordinary life?”  You have to create it.

First start learning to bring things into your zone of awareness.  Then start to find people who have already done those things and learn from them bringing it into your zone of possibility.  Finally take action and get out of your comfort zone to go after them.

This article and writing it has inspired me to start asking what is out of my zone of awareness right now?  I feel like my life is pretty awesome but I still start to wonder what’s the next level?  What don’t I know about yet?  What’s next to learn?

What are you going to do next to expand your awareness zone?

Let’s make it happen

Sending you happiness


Screenshots via Moby Games

Join the Donegan mailing list

Leave A Comment

Related Articles

  • Blog, Mindset, overcome fear, take action

    By Published On: June 21, 2024

    What are you arguing for? Every year Katie and I run the Rebel Finance School, which is our way of giving back. We give away a 10-week course all about financial freedom and thousands of people attend from all walks of life, 40 different countries and all backgrounds. I spend the first few weeks [...]

  • Blog, change to page, overcome fear, take action

    By Published On: July 27, 2023

    "Cash is king!" People proclaim this all the time!  If you have cash you can do anything, but what is the true cost of cash? This week, we met someone that came on the course in 2022 and has left her money in cash since. I thought cash was king? Should I change my mind? [...]

  • overcome fear, take action

    By Published On: March 10, 2019

    What do you fill your life with?  It is completely full at the moment.  Every minute of your day is spent somehow!  What are you actually filling it with? Have you made a conscious choice of what you put into your days, weeks, months, and years? To create space for anything new in your life, [...]