I won’t claim to have any kind of special insight into life at my tender age, so I’ll just expand on a common bit of wisdom: never be the smartest person in the room.
Since joining a quickly-growing company after high school, I’ve never been more out of my element more often. Yet I’ve somehow learned enough to survive. In fact, I’ve learned more than enough – I now have at least a basic grasp of much of what makes a company successful and what makes it fail.
I’ll attribute some of this to the people and places and events that helped me along. I’ll attribute some to work ethic and character. I will also attribute some to the ignorance that has made the process such a challenge.
I have often been the dumbest person on the room. Failing to realize this has caused me a lot of grief. The times when I have realized it and proceeded with that knowledge have been my best. Thus the simple rule I’d like to share: be good enough to get in but ignorant enough to learn. If you’re starting out in the world without much knowledge or work to your credit, you will need to be both.
Good enough to get in? This is pretty straightforward no matter what you’re trying to get into. Often think most people would find that curiosity and a relentless drive to get things done are enough.
The second part of this rule may seem like odd advice. Why would I advise you to be ignorant? I really wouldn’t advise you to stay that way, but I would advise you to constantly remember that you are ignorant of many things. You have no idea how ignorant you are – if you did, “ignorant” wouldn’t be a fair description. Have patience, and you’ll find out how deep your naïveté runs.
In the meantime, though, you have to use it to your advantage. You’ll get nothing out of challenging or new experiences (which are, for you, the vast majority) if you don’t approach them with a teachable mind. Admit – or at least pretend – that you know nothing in that philosophy conversation, that team meeting, that social event. Then ask, watch, and learn.
There’s no shame in ignorance. There’s plenty to be had in remaining ignorant when you have the chance to gain knowledge. So take advantage of your ignorance as you go through life to learn. Then use what you’ve learned to be “good enough to get in” to find new challenges. It’s a virtuous cycle.
If you get joy from the process of working and growing, this principle may be valuable for you, too – though I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already found it. It’s a rule that teaches itself.