I recently published an article that talks about the tendency we have to feel ashamed for not knowing or knowing how to do something, entitled No On Knows What the F*** They’re Doing, which has received a lot of feedback and discussion. First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone for all of their great feedback and contributions to the discussion.
Though 99.9% of feedback was spot-on (which I’m pleasantly surprised about… we’ll chalk it up to beginner’s luck), I feel a responsibility to point out and correct a few misinterpretations I’ve seen popup a few times in some of the feedback and discussion that has taken off in the past week from this article.
Ignorance Is Okay (misinterpretation)
I’ve read at least one comment saying that my advice is bullshit, because ignorance should not be condoned and people should get off their lazy asses and learn stuff. Well, if I had interpreted my article to be condoning ignorance and laziness, I would think it’s total bullshit as well.
In fact, I am not condoning either… just the opposite. In the concluding paragraph to the article, I alluded to my observation that fear and shame seem to be common obstacles that keep people from speaking up when they don’t know something. My point is that you should not feel either. My objective was to eliminate a common barrier that people feel when encountering new situations or information, when they approach the limits of their comfort zone.
What I’m not saying: “It’s okay to be ignorant.”
What I am saying: “Everyone is ignorant at some time about some thing. So get over it, and pull yourself through it.” I.e. “Get over yourself and figure it out.”
Fake It ‘Til You Make It (misinterpretation)
I think/hope this one was mostly said tongue-in-cheek, but I’ve seen this in a few comments and tweets about the article. People seem to be relieved that others are just as clueless as they are; this is good, this is what I wanted. But then they go on to conclude that, as a result, it’s okay to pretend to know stuff you don’t, because no one actually knows anyway.
If anything, this is the exact opposite of the intended interpretation of the article. For one, my point isn’t that when you don’t know something, neither does anyone else. Hell no, there will always be someone who knows the things you don’t know. Rather, my point is that no one knows everything, so when you do encounter something you don’t know, seek the answers and ask someone if needed. They will not think less of you for not knowing already, because they have been there and they know what it’s like; they can relate.
What I’m not saying: “No one really knows X, so it’s okay to pretend you do at least until you learn X.”
What I am saying: “Everyone doesn’t know something, so don’t be ashamed when you find something you don’t know. Ask, discover, figure it out, and turn it into something you do know. Then there will be no need to pretend or fake.”
Confidence and Ego Are Bad (misinterpretation)
I’ve seen a couple ad hominem comments (comments that refute my point based on my perceived personal character, rather than on the point itself), concluding that I must have a strong dislike of people who are confident and have an ego.
On the contrary, I have quite healthy confidence and ego myself. My only guess is that these people must have skimmed the article and missed the first of two types of people with confidence and ego. From my original post:
They have figured out everything written here, and thus, are on an even playing field as you. They deserve it no more (and no less) than you do. They (and you) have a very large shit you know you don’t know category. Not only that, but they (and you) can only imagine how immense the shit you don’t know you don’t know category is (since it’s impossible to know by virtue of being the stuff you don’t know about). It’s easy to see how small the shit you know category is by comparison. And it is this awareness that makes them (and you) feel so clueless at times.
What I’m not saying: “People with confidence are only confident because they don’t realize how much they don’t know.”
What I am saying: “People with confidence are one of two types: 1) those who realize it’s okay to not know everything, but who strive to nonetheless, and 2) those who don’t realize how much they don’t know. Confidence built on a firm grasp of reality and humility is good. Confidence built on ignorance is bad. Be one of the former, never the latter.”
Ignorance Is Only Okay If It’s Temporary
A healthy outlook on life, learning, and knowledge, is to remember that ignorance of any one thing is only okay as a temporary state. When you encounter something you don’t know, learn it. Try (and enjoy trying) to eliminate ignorance, but remember that the universe is big, and you will never finish your pursuit.
But it’s okay, because that’s not really the point, is it? The point is not to fully eliminate all ignorance (well, maybe as a civilization it is, but we’re talking about the individual here); the point is to enjoy trying.