I used to think I needed to know everything to be valuable. I couldn’t answer “I don’t know” or even give the appearance that I didn’t know something. I needed to know everything all the time in my professional role, as a husband, as a father, and even as a friend. I tried to maintain a mask of an all-knowing, wise man. It was pure chaos.
Getting It All Wrong
I was gathered around a Trivial Pursuit board with a group of my friends. We were at a party, a gathering of some friends and others that I didn’t know. Trivial Pursuit challenges your knowledge of a range of categories from entertainment to history. We were playing the adult version, not a watered-down version made for teenagers. I remember not being excited to play, but I played anyway.
The people at the table were some of the brightest people I knew, and I already felt intellectually inferior to them. Some of these people had been in my high school class, and I knew that they were intellectually gifted and talented. I was a C student at best, and I struggled in school, which further turned me off to the pursuit of knowledge. In high school, I often pretended not to care about my grades or doing well, but instead I felt intellectually inferior and dumb, so I falsely showed others that I didn’t care.
At the table with my “friends,” the questions began flying, and others were answering them correctly. In the game, every time you answered a questioned correctly in a category, you would earn the pie piece for that category, and never have to answer that category again. When you correctly answered a question in each category, you won the game. As my friends answered question after question correctly, I followed their success with incorrect answers. I remember with each pass of the game feeling dumber and dumber. And I also remember seeing my competitors’ pie pieces filling up as they answered most of their questions successfully.
As the game continued, they succeeded, and I continued to fail to answer correctly. My competitors’ support turned to laughs, and their laughs to pity and sympathy. By the end of the game, they held their breath while I tried to answer, and with each failed question, I felt smaller and more inadequate in the world. When the game finished, the other players competed to see who could get the last piece, while I competed to get my first piece. That game anchored beliefs of my intellectual inferiority for the next 30 years and created a desperate desire to learn everything about everything so I would never feel that feeling again. I completed two academic degrees with high GPAs and ascended the corporate ladder quickly and easily.
Fast forward to 2009. I was the Plant Manager of an operating plant in Stanley Black & Decker. We were in an executive review meeting and I vividly remember hoping that no one asked me a question. I watched as the President asked our team question after question, and I still remember how I felt in that meeting. I hoped to remain invisible so that I wouldn’t be exposed. This meeting was the first time I realized how I deeply feared not knowing the answer. This was the same fear I felt in that Trivial Pursuit session, and it never left until my career collapsed in 2016.
We can’t know all things. In fact, we can’t know things about all things. We can have a zone of genius, an area where knowledge, wisdom, and performance that comes easily and naturally, but even then, we will not know all things in that zone. We can continue to learn and develop a hunger for knowledge and wisdom, but we must also come to terms with the fact that there’ll always be something we don’t know. To think you can know all things will create intense internal conflict and unnecessary suffering.
Opinions and Perspectives
Everyone sees the world through the lens and filter of their own unique beliefs and experiences. In other words, everyone sees the world differently, so no two perspectives are the same. We can play pretend and think that there is only one way to view the world, but we’ll only create unnecessary frustration in our interactions with others, and unhealthy pride that we have the only valuable perspective. Since everyone has different perspectives and opinions, seeing the world through the eyes of others can deepen our own experience and wisdom. Moreover, presenting your own perspectives as the only acceptable “fact” will cause conflict with others who have differing opinions and perspectives.
Because I felt dumb, I diminished as many people as possible in my own mind. I diminished others to try to feel superior in some way, but this diminishment came from a sense of inferiority. People who feel inferior – inadequate – try to pull others down to their level since they do not fully understand how to elevate themselves. Instead of being able to rise in their own reality, their only choice is to judge others. The way out of this painful loop is to recognize that there are many valuable opinions and perspectives on every topic known to humanity. Scientists disprove things that have been proven every day. Facts can become false or simply perspective very quickly and easily.
I learned a trick to easily present my perspective and opinion while valuing the perspective of others. I suggest that when presenting your perspective, lead with, “From my perspective…,” then present your perspective, and follow it up with, “What am I missing?” This not only presents that you know that you don’t have it all figured out but invites another perspective into the discussion. Now individuals do not have to feel that they need to be perfect. Present your perspective, and both can enrich what they already know. It creates an open platform for growth, not a battle to see who knows the most.
You Know Plenty
You are adequate, and never need to know more to be enough in this lifetime. Constant learning will benefit your growth, but you don’t need to know everything to know enough. You can choose to feel adequate right now. When you feel adequate, you won’t hesitate to say, “I don’t know,” when you really don’t know. When you feel adequate, you’ll also never need to judge and diminish anyone else because your value and worth will be anchored inside of your being, not in how you compare yourself to others.
Decide today to show up as yourself, regardless of what you know and what you don’t know. The chase for perfection or to know it all always ends up in the same place – in complete internal chaos. I transcended the need to know it all which made me appreciate myself, and others, so much more. Decide to be you, and cease comparing yourself to others. Accept yourself absolutely and continue to grow. I guarantee that everything in your life will grow with you along the way. As you grow, remember this; you’re perfectly imperfect, just like everyone else.