by Niall Doherty

I’m not that smart. Neither are you. There’s a whole helluva lot that even the brightest among us don’t know about the world. Even when we put our heads together and combine our knowledge, we still fail to find answers to some big important questions.

I used to try hide my ridiculous lack of knowledge. Not so many years ago, if you had used a word in conversation that I wasn’t familiar with, I would have nodded along as if I understood perfectly. I didn’t want you think I was an idiot for not knowing what apathy meant. Nowadays I’ll ask you to please back up and explain.

Because at some point I realized that it’s okay not to know. You actually learn much faster when you admit that you don’t know something, because then you’re free to ask questions. You ditch the ego and the pretense and allow some new stuff to enter your brain.

20 things I don’t know

  1. I don’t know how to start this list
  2. I don’t know how to succeed in business
  3. I don’t know how I’m going to pull off my RTW trip
  4. I don’t know who I’ll be a year from now
  5. I don’t know if veganism is really the healthiest diet for me
  6. I don’t know if I’ll ever settle down and do the wife and kids thing
  7. I don’t know how this post will turn out
  8. I don’t know how to do a handstand
  9. I don’t know what happens after we die
  10. I don’t know how to cook a nice couscous dish
  11. I don’t know what a Justin Bieber song sounds like
  12. I don’t know much about travel hacking
  13. I don’t know much about language hacking
  14. I don’t know general car maintenance
  15. I don’t know if life is meaningful or meaningless
  16. I don’t know what it feels like to stroll around Paris
  17. I don’t know how to avoid the occasional downswing
  18. I don’t know how to write a bestseller
  19. I don’t know if it’s better to work in short bursts or long slogs
  20. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship

That’s just a sampling, off the top of my head. Let’s not forget all the things I don’t know that I don’t know yet. That would make for an infinitely longer list 😉

Some folks come to this blog looking for advice on how to live their lives. Sorry, I have no idea. I’m still figuring out how to live mine. The best I can do is share what works for me, and what doesn’t. Hopefully you get something useful out of that.

I don’t even know about the stuff I do know about

Take web design for example. I consider myself an ace at CSS and the like, but I often have to google for answers. Yeah, this is something I consider myself an expert at and I’m still having to go ask Google for help.

And that’s okay. I don’t have to know everything. I believe it’s more important to have a strong imagination, a willingness to learn, and a healthy dose of proactivity.

There’s a story about Henry Ford that I absolutely love. Back in 1919 he sued a Chicago newspaper for libel after they referred to him as “an ignorant idealist” because of his opposition to the US involvement in World War I. As part of their defense, the newspaper’s attorneys set out to prove that Ford was indeed ignorant by putting him on the stand and asking him a series of general knowledge questions. Ford admitted that he couldn’t answer most of them, but noted that he had the means to, with the touch of a button, summon to his aid people who could supply any knowledge he desired.

Ford understood that he didn’t need to know everything. All he needed to know was how to find answers to specific questions in a timely manner.

Book knowledge vs. real knowledge

If you had asked me about marketing back in January I would have had lots to tell you. I’d been following a bunch of marketing blogs for a while and had read a couple of Seth Godin’s books. Everything made perfect sense. I was sure I got it.

But now it’s August and I’ve come to realize how little I really learned from all my reading. I did a pretty terrible job of marketing my online course, and I’m finding it tougher than expected to get the word out about my latest project.

I thought I knew a lot about marketing, but it’s become apparent that I don’t. That gap between theory and true knowledge is even bigger than I suspected.

I am learning though, gradually getting better at this marketing lark. And it’s not because of some super-fantastic new ebook that I stumbled upon, but because I’ve been taking action, allowing myself to fail, and trying hard to learn from my mistakes.

There’s that quote from Benny Franklin that rings especially true right here:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Get yourself involved and you’ll find out pretty quick how real your knowledge is.

Be aware of how little you know

I believe the smartest people in the world are those who realize how clueless they really are. That doesn’t mean they feel stupid all the time and are constantly second-guessing themselves. It simply means that they remain open to new ideas and experiences, they test their assumptions and allow themselves to be proven wrong.

They don’t derive their confidence from knowing more than other people, but from knowing they can adapt to whatever life throws at them.

Those three words

So, what are the three most intelligent words in the English language? Well, I’ve used them several times throughout this post, but no worries if you can’t figure it out. There’s no shame in not knowing. You can always ask in the comments 😉

What don’t you know?