I got this, I know what I’m doing. Easy as pie." Famous final words. I made the mistake of over-estimating my abilities recently, and learned just how dangerous it is to be cocky.
I was given the opportunity to train for a part-time writing job but approached the learning process with a self-assured pat on the back that said: "It’ll be easy." I’m a writer -- I’ve done it for 10 years, I’m a pro.
What could I possibly have to learn?
A lot, as it turns out.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I was venturing into a new format, style, process and skill set that I’d never used before. Why on earth would I for a second think that it would be easy? Because of my arrogance, I made mistakes, disappointed myself and in my over-dramatic fashion, began to think I likely lowered the expectations of the people trying to train me.
Who do I think I am, anyway?
In the writing biz, you quickly learn one thing before any other: There is always someone -- in fact several someones -- much, much better than you. You can become a bestselling author or a prize-winning journalist, but you’ll always be trailing behind one of your betters.
This is certainly true in life. You may have a really nice house but someone down the road has a nicer one. Your new car has all the amenities, but your neighbor has one more cool thing than you do. Sure, your kids are on the honor roll, but your friend’s kid just got into an Ivy League school.
Unless you’re the Dali Lama or Bill Gates or Scarlett Johansson, you’re not the wisest, smartest or sexiest person in the world. Sorry.
But don’t give up just yet. I’m not trying to be a buzz kill. Confidence is a good thing, but cockiness will get you nowhere. Ironically, it makes it impossible for you to get better at anything. You shut your ears to advice of any kind because hey, you’re smart enough already. You don’t learn, grow, or change for the better, and don’t listen to people who know better than you. Instead, you stagnate, marinating in the juices of your own excellence when really, you’re not excellent at all.
I’m not telling you to whine about how incompetent you think you are now. Simply admit that everyone -- including your super-intelligent self -- has more to learn and that everyone is a work in progress.
There’s no such thing as a know-it-all.
It was hard for me to admit that I was ignorant in something I fancied myself an expert in. Humbly taking advice to improve myself wasn’t easy either. I didn’t want to be the student. But that’s the only way to grow.
Once I finally admitted my stupidity and surrendered to the advice of my better, I suddenly "got it."
Everything made sense and guess what? I’m on my way to graduating from D student to an acceptable B plus. Yes, I am a pro, but I’m a pro who can still learn more skills. And modesty is the quickest route to success.
JH Mae is a Banner columnist.