All I Know is that I Know Nothing

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

Socrates

The realization that you don’t know much as you think you do is a humbling and important experience.

There’s a great line by Richard Williams, Director of Animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit that encapsulates this feeling perfectly. He was finishing up his first animated film, The Little Island, and around that time Disney’s Bambi came out in theaters. “… I saw Bambi again and almost crawled out of the theatre on my hands and knees. ‘How did they ever do that?’ I’d learned just enough to realize that I really didn’t know anything!”

You have to be a little naive and arrogant in the beginning when you are just starting out on a new venture (be it a business, project, prototyping an idea, learning a new skill, etc). Otherwise, you’ll know too much to start and overwhelm yourself.

Knowing what you know now, would you have started if you knew how hard it would be to get where you are?

You have to be naive and inexperienced enough to try new things.

Zen Buddhists describe this is having a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is open and ready to learn.

Eventually, you learn a thing or two about your craft. You start making things, designing things, selling things, and get good enough to move things forward. Product sales role in. Your design clients like your work. Your art gets praise. Your song gets applause.

But then you see a professional at work. You see someone who does what you do, but a hundred times better. Heck, you didn’t even realize your guitar could do that. For example, take one look at some of the designs on Dribbble and you’ll realize your designs are garbage designs. “Are they using the same app I’m using?? How do they even make colors and shapes look like that??” The same is true for any skill, venture, or activity. And you realize that—

There’s a lot of incredible creatives and entrepreneurs out there.

It’s painful when you realize you aren’t as good as you want to be.

(It’s also painful when you see someone doing things worse than you are, but they are getting all the praise and attention—Topic for another day.)

But this is a great place to be in. This is another one of those pesky turning points that separate those that succeed and fail. You could stop. You could let someone’s brilliant work make you feel down about yourself and lead you to quit. Or—

You can let it lift you up and inspire you to do better.

Knowing that there’s a lot you don’t know is a great mindset to be in. You’ll learn must faster and more effectively. Humility leads to growth. Once you get past the initial ego-sting of realizing you aren’t the best, you can use the brilliance of others as an experience to seek out advice and to get better.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #913

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The Bleeding Heart of an Amateur

I think you have to be a little bit of an idiot with everything you are trying to learn.
Otherwise, you know too much and things can get daunting / overwhelming very quickly.

The original meaning of the french word naiveté (which I always forget how to spell) was being “innocent or natural”. Another way I would interpret ‘innocent’ or ‘natural’ would be ‘childlike’.

When you approach learning with a childlike quality, you are more likely to look past how difficult the journey to mastery will actually be. On the road to mastery, here ‘ther be many dragons. The iconic photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt) had a saying, “Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.” (He also said “keep it simple.” 🙂

We all need a little amateur’s naive spirit on our path towards learning. Too much and we might fall off a cliff’s edge we didn’t see coming, too little and we might be too smart for our own good to start.

“I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress.”

Daniel Boorstin, American Historian

An amateurs naivetè can give you superpowers:

  • The ability to ask dumb questions without knowing or caring that they are dumb.
  • Endless curiosity — the ability to ask a million questions and only stop because it’s bedtime.
  • Endless imagination — When everything is unknown, everything is possible.
  • Fearless — the ability to start things, without the fear that starting new things usually brings.
  • The ability to fail towards success — sometimes without even knowing your ‘failing’.
  • And the ability to look stupid and not care.

If you can tackle any endeavor with an amateurs heart AND the wisdom to be aware of and avoid pitfalls, you just might become one the best at what you love to do.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #622

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