“So goes discovery: unless you know your own ignorance, you won’t recognize when something truly novel is right before your eyes.” – Nick Pyenson
I don’t know anyone with fond memories of their adolescence. For most of us, it was a period of uncomfortable change. Our bodies transforming into young adults while struggling with new social structures and relationships. But we didn’t have a choice – we could only grow through change.
Recently, I joined the Cape Cod Astronomical Society. While I’ve read several books on astronomy and astrophysics, many members are actual scientists. During lectures, I take notes on the concepts I’ll need to look up when I get home.
Similarly, I’ve started listening to a podcast on commercial printing – with an emphasis on offset printing and packaging. I’ve worked in the world of digital print for decades, but my focus has been on documents. Just like the astronomy lectures, I take notes on the terms I don’t know.
It’s awkward for me to be in a situation where I’m the person in the room with the least amount of knowledge. Especially being a consultant who makes a living off his expertise. But if I’m going to grow, I don’t have a choice.
That’s the challenge each of us faces – we want to grow so we’re more comfortable with a subject or a situation, but the only way to do that is to put ourselves in circumstances that are uncomfortable.
If we want to learn more, we first have to admit that we’re uninformed. To become educated, we have to seek out people with more knowledge than us. To improve a skill, we have to demonstrate our inability. To grow means to accept that we’re incomplete.
For many reasons, each of those steps can be difficult to take. No one wants to admit being ignorant, uneducated, lacking talent or being imperfect. However, for each of us, in some parts of our lives, every one of those statements is true. No one is perfect.
Perhaps an unpleasant incident holds us back. A taunt from bullies in the schoolyard. Discipline from a mediocre teacher. A reprimand from a second-rate boss. Based on these experiences, we do everything we can to hide any sign of weakness.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence. Friends, good educators and excellent leaders want to help us grow. They’ll stick with us while we learn a new concept, master a skill and continue our development.
Even with assistance, it’s up to us to accept the uneasiness and distress of being open. Old demons aren’t easily quieted. Some pains remain fresh despite the passage of time. The internal struggle may be the toughest of all.
The reward makes it all worthwhile. It may only be the familiarity of a small part of a vast body of knowledge. Or obtaining the slightest skill of an amateur. Or achieving a bit more understanding of who we are.
The magnitude of the change isn’t important. Rather, it’s that feeling that we’re no longer the person who we were yesterday. We’ve moved further along the path of life. We’ve grown.
When I was a runner, the best advice I received was “to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” That advice holds true not just for athletes, but for anyone who wants to improve. To move forward, we must move out of our comfort zone.