As many of you know, I recently started a new job. I went from youth ministry to selling Blowout Preventer repair parts. As you might imagine, there is a bit of a learning curve. So right now, my abilities are limited. I have to ask a lot of questions. I screw up a lot. I just flat-out cannot do certain things. I need everything double checked.
I would imagine this is standard procedure in job changes. But my problem is that I like to have it all figured out. I like to be the expert. I like to have the answers. So much so that most of the time if I cannot easily master something, I just won’t do it.
The other thing I am immersed in right now is studying adult education. We spend a lot of time talking about how adults learn differently than children. One of the main impediments to adult learning is adults do whatever they can to not look stupid. So if they have a question that could potentially make them look stupid, they won’t ask it. They would rather be behind and ignorant than potentially make themselves look like they don’t get it.
We avoid questions and even potential failures so we won’t be found out. But our fear of being found out keeps us from growing.
We need to ask questions. They are how we learn. We need to ask tough questions and piddley, stupid questions. If we don’t ask questions, how will we ever grow? Not asking questions assures that we will stay right where we are. Ironically, being willing to look like an idiot is actually what keeps us from becoming one.
We need to drop the idea that we have to pretend like we have it all together. We need to stop acting like we have all the answers. Even if it means looking like an idiot.
In my experience, people usually already know I’m an idiot. But we are so scared that we might be “found out” that we put up a lot of walls in order to look like we have it all figured out. We want to appear put together and in control.
In working with teenagers, I found that one of the best answers I could give them was: “I don’t know.” It’s honest. It makes other people realize we are all in the same boat – searching, asking, trying things out and failing. That is the stuff of life. If I am ok with being an idiot, it creates common ground for us to stand on.
Asking questions is a kind of confession. As Anne Jackson says in her amazing book, it is giving the gift of going second. When I ask a question, I am admitting I don’t know. When I admit that, I give others the freedom to admit they really don’t know either.
So go ahead… give yourself permission to look like an idiot.
You’ll be glad you did.