Okay, let’s get it out of the way before the sarcasm begins: Obviously the title of this article isn’t literally true. I do know a few things about many things. I couldn’t function in the world if I didn’t. And neither could you. We all have knowledge. What we generally don’t have is enough of it, or the sense to admit our shortcomings.
The point of this piece isn’t to argue about how much education people have, or need to have, or should have. That’s a topic for the politicians. The point of this piece is to discuss just how freeing it is when you give up and just admit that you don’t know anything.
I’ve been getting slapped upside the head by things I don’t know anything about for months now. Ever since Broken Fate was accepted for publication (and has now hit the marketplace), I’ve been forced to learn about marketing, publishing, the state of the industry, sales statistics, social media, and what an author’s career is supposed to look like. It’s all stuff for which my formal education did not prepare me. I’ve had to learn a lot on the fly (and very quickly). Even with my best efforts, I often feel like I’m failing at life.
At first I tried to act like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t ask questions, instead pretending to know what was going on. (I’d listen to what people said and then Google furiously to figure out what was really going on.) I didn’t want people to know how lost I was. I was afraid that admitting my clueless-ness, would count against me. Contracts wouldn’t be offered, my book wouldn’t be supported, and people would simply think I was an idiot.
I wasted a lot of mental energy pretending to have it all together. Not to mention the time I wasted researching things that could have been handled by asking a simple question. I should have been writing more books. Instead, I was hounding Google for answers. Wait… I am an idiot.
And then one day I said, “Screw it.” I was exhausted by all the pretending. Worse, I wasn’t making any real progress because I wasn’t getting the answers I needed from the people who knew my unique situation and could offer relevant, rather than generic, advice. I said, “You know what? I don’t know anything about this. So treat me like a noob and educate me.” And people did.
It’s worked out well. I can ask questions and I don’t feel like an idiot. The people around me want me to succeed so they graciously offer help. So what if the same question has been asked fifty times? The old saying that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask is true. Maybe they’ve answered it for other authors, but not for me. I can’t help it if I’m new anymore than I can help having red hair.
I’ve since tried applying this to most things in life. Religion? I don’t know anything, so teach me. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of views and insights that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. DIY/home improvement? Who knew that I could actually learn this stuff instead of messing up projects because I thought I knew what I was doing and didn’t want to ask for help. Current events? Open your mind to the possibility that even the news doesn’t know everything and seek out information on your own and you start to see things aren’t as one-sided as we’d like them to be. Writing? Oh, there’s so much I don’t know, and not just about publishing. Admitting that I don’t know all there is to know about craft has opened me up to reading new genres and experimenting with things like flash fiction which have yielded rewarding results.
It’s been the same with just about every topic I encounter. I’m surprised at how much I thought I knew (or pretended to know) about just about everything when, in reality, I know next to nothing. Giving up that illusion and simply saying, “I don’t know. Teach me,” has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. And the bonus is that it has made me more knowledgeable. In a genuine, not, “Sure, I know it all,” way. I’m still a long way from knowing everything, but every day I get a little bit closer. And that’s awesome.