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I Guess I Haven't Learned That Yet
How our lack of knowledge can be a gift to the world.
I’m in one of the most insecurity-prone environments possible: a room full of young people in the first week of their full-time careers, each hired because of their leadership activities in college, people-first mentality, and willingness to learn. Yet, as we participate in workshops, learn from professionals decades into their career, and are up to our ears in HR information, it’s easy to wonder if what made us successful in college will actually help us succeed, here.
As some of my fellow new hires start talking about their past internship or family farm experience, I’m hearing terms I’ve never heard before—PPO inhibitors, EDI, AMS—and pretty quickly I start to wonder if the hiring manager made a smart choice by giving me an offer. Yes, I grew up on a farm, but coming from an organic production system, I never needed to know much about conventional crop protection methods. Yet, here I am, thinking I can learn to sell products I’m hearing about for the first time? How naive of me.
Anytime we’ve become good at something, or finally feel like we know what we’re doing, it’s hard to start over. Think about how it was going from 8th grade to freshman year, or senior year of high school to the beginning of college or your career. All of a sudden, you go from being the top dog to the little guy trying to stay afloat. In the midst of all our questioning, one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is this: “I don’t know much about this job, so I shouldn’t be here. I’m probably really dumb after all.”
There I was, telling myself this lie in that training room during the first week of my new job. Then, a little voice in my head reminded me of a book my dear friend Anna had shared with me a few weeks prior.
It’s the title of the book, and it’s a mantra I’m starting to live by: whenever I encounter something at work that I don’t know, I remind myself it’s okay that I don’t know it yet. Why would I? I’m new here, and being new pretty much guarantees we won’t know a whole lot. And that’s the point. If we showed up to a new job and were already good at it and knew everything, it probably would be too easy of a job for us. We’d get bored, and what fun is that?
But, it’s hard to be new. It’s hard to not know things, yet. It’s hard to feel like we’re behind, like we don’t know enough to be useful, like we have to prove that we deserve to be there. So, how do we know, deep down in our souls, it’s okay we haven’t learned everything yet? I’m working on finding a few anchors in this season, and I’d like to share those with you.
1) Surround yourself with people who remind you it’s okay you don’t know things yet, and who will contribute to your learning.
I am so fortunate to have a great team and set of mentors in my job who remind me every day it’s okay to not know everything. It’s made the transition so much easier than it could have been. Yet, they also push me to keep learning; it’s a balance of being content with where you are when you’re there, but not being content with staying in the same place for days at a time.
2) Set realistic goals about what you want to know by when.
Maybe you have a meeting coming up that you need to lead, or a presentation to make. Focus on learning whatever you need to learn to be successful in the small task, and build from there. You don’t have to learn everything at once, so decide what’s important to learn first, and give yourself plenty of grace.
3) Each time you hear someone use a term you’re not familiar with, or you encounter a piece of knowledge you don’t have yet, write it down and set a reminder to do some research on it later.
If I know someone who is an expert on that topic, I’ll reach out to them and ask them to share more of what they know. If I don’t even know who to go to, I go to Google and figure it out from there. It helps me to keep a running log of questions I have and then to look back as I learn and see how far I’ve come.
4) Keep asking genuine questions from a place of curiosity.
The other night, my friend Gwen and I caught up over dinner and I was admitting my fear of not knowing much, and she reminded me of this truth: people don’t need you to know everything, they need you to care. When we approach what we don’t know with genuine curiosity, and we humble ourselves by letting others teach us, we’re actually serving them. Think about it: when you know a lot about a topic, teaching someone else makes you feel important. By allowing someone else to be the expert instead of pretending we don’t need help, we end up serving those around us more than if we tried to know everything, anyway.
So, there you have it: some tips I’m still working on implementing. I still doubt myself many times a day, there’s no question there, but here’s what I’m noticing: the more I practice humility and curiosity, the more I forget about my own ego and desire to know it all. The more I focus on just the next thing I need to learn instead of worrying about the whole host of things I don’t know yet, the more I enjoy learning. The more I focus on making others in the room feel valued, the less I feel the need to prove I belong in the room. I don’t know how to be great at my job, but it’s okay. I just haven’t learned it yet, and the “yet” is the most important part of that sentence.
Journal Prompt of the Week
When have you been ashamed to admit what you didn’t know? How might have the situation turned out differently if you were open about what you didn’t know yet?
Share with the Community
What’s a tip you’ve learned to embrace new jobs, places, and environments? How do you exercise curiosity?