The first thing that struck me was the number of people who shared my fear of coming across as ill-informed while in the process of learning. Yet somehow, they pushed through this fear. Similar to my own fear of not being smart enough, they saw it as a personal failure if they were not as knowledgeable as they thought they should be.
To overcome this fear of failure, one of the participants had developed a habit of prefacing his ‘stupid’ questions with the caveat, “I might be stupid, but …” when seeking out new information. While self-deprecation was his way of bolstering himself against potential criticism, it also let him ask anything he wanted to know while keeping him humble.
At his day job, this same participant would get his team to spend one hour every morning reading newsletters related to their field of expertise. These newsletters served to broaden their perspectives, reinforce their interests, or reignite their passions had the spark faded.
It reminded me of the various newsletters I sign up for that pull together thoughtful longform articles from all over the internet. That I’m not flipping through physical pages doesn’t invalidate the amount of knowledge I’m gaining.
For this group that I met, no matter their fear of appearing stupid, the desire to improve themselves trumped self-doubt, empowering them to continue looking for learning opportunities. They showed me that learning requires vulnerability, resilience, and a considerable amount of indifference to what others think.
More than that, it necessitates being kind to oneself and allowing oneself to fail. Even if it means looking dumb. Especially then.
These participants, in my opinion, had conquered half the battle by knowing what they didn’t know. Anyone can preach all they want about how beneficial lifelong learning can be for your career progression, but it is fundamentally a lifehack for self-awareness.
Another participant shared an equation about her learning journey that explains this notion:
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