I have spent the last 30 years helping people to learn about technology in a number of ways and there has always been one, constant theme to this process — people hate to “feel stupid”about technology — or anything, for that matter. I think “feeling stupid” should be a diagnosed clinical physiological problem for all the damage it causes. Too many times, I have seen people suffer both personal and professional trials, simply to avoid the embarrassment and fear of “feeling stupid.” Let me tell you, though, avoiding the fear of appearing stupid to your friends, family and co-workers could be the most damaging act you take in your life and career. It can have far-reaching effects that limit your effectiveness, productivity and future success. Embrace “knowing what you don’t know” and then seek to learn.
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It is often said that the most dangerous people are those that “don’t know what they don’t know.” They blunder from one crisis to the next, never knowing that their lack of knowledge is harming both themselves and those around them. They seem totally secure in their actions, even when they have no understanding of the problem at hand. Further, they often lash out at those who try to help them learn more — their outward veneer of security masking a deep insecurity beneath. Don’t be this person. Feel confident, yes. Feel secure, but also know that their are times when “feeling stupid” is the best indicator that you have something more to learn.
No one likes to feel stupid, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t all face it — often on a daily basis. What is more important than the feeling, though, is what we do about it. Some of us are so affected by “feeling stupid” that we hide away and worse, hide our stupidity. Instead, we should take every opportunity to learn more when we feel we don’t know enough. Faced with an unknown word in the paper you are reading. Look it up! Don’t understand some monetary policy, do some online research. Can’t figure out why the roses in your garden aren’t blooming? Ask a knowledgeable friend.
The truth is, there is absolutely no reason for feeling stupid in today’s world. We have so many resources to help us understand the world around us, if we only took the time and energy to use them. From the immediate and handy confines of your smartphone you can find nearly any piece of information. Sure, you might have study deeper and longer to truly understand a complex topic, but getting started in your learning has never been easier. Even more, if you truly fear “feeling stupid”, no one else needs to know what you don’t know. You can step away, do a little research and return much the wiser.
Why then, do we still fear feeling stupid so much? Mainly this is due to insecurity. We fear being judged by our coworkers, our boss, our family, our spouse. We fear what they might think about us if they only knew how stupid we really are. I have a shocking revelation for you, though. They are just as stupid as you are. Sure they are probably stupid about entirely different things, but they carry around the same baggage as you. They fear feeling stupid, too. Perhaps by understanding this fact, we can all come together in our stupidity and move beyond it. We are not alone. We all share a common burden. If we start to collectively understand that fact, perhaps we can all move beyond our feelings of stupidity and move forward with our career and lives.
“Feeling stupid” is merely a sign that we have more to learn, not a sign of weakness. If we take this sign as an indication to learn more, we turn those threatening and scary feelings into a powerful force for improvement. If we move beyond our fear, we can move forward in great leaps. More importantly, if we all collectively understand that we are all stupid in something, perhaps we can move beyond the psychological angst we all go through whenever we are confronted with our own stupidity. Perhaps we can all start helping one another with the challenges in our life and career, instead of hiding behind bluster and intimidation, whenever we find we don’t know something. Imagine what you work and life could be like if we were all helping each other learn more, instead of demeaning and punishing others if they dare show their stupidity. It is as important to “know what you don’t know” as it is to understand the ignorance of others and understand that we all have something to learn, sometime in our lives.