Yoda would not have his own podcast
I had no answer because wisdom; why to steer clear of people who always know everything
Yesterday I had the
nerve-racking delightful experience of giving a guest lecture on how to use numbers in storytelling for Section4. Have I been kicking myself since for not going slower, using more advanced tips, etc., etc.? Have I been obsessing over what I could have done better? Do I know how useless regret is? Yes, yes, and also yes.1
One of the students was kind enough to write “this is twice as good as my grandmother’s apple pie!” in the chat. Thus, the “grandma’s apple pie meme” was born. Fast forward to the Q&A, when a guy asked: “Should I use, say, the grandma’s apple pie thing, or something less accurate that’s in line with the story?”
Ladies and gentlemen: I have no idea.
For the love of God, please subscribe:
You know what I really wanted to say? I wanted to give the one piece of advice that no one wants to hear:
It depends on every other variable—none of which I know. I don’t know the story, the context, the boss, the data. But the people who are quick to answer those questions and think that there’s always one right answer are the very people we need to avoid, for they are the worst.2
Wisdom: A Primer
Psychological maturity follows a pretty standard path. In short, we develop a more realistic view of our place in the grand scheme of things.3
When we’re babies, everything is black and white; we’re the center of the world:
Over time, we acknowledge other people, with their own perspectives:
Later, our identity gets wrapped up in the group—we want nothing more than to belong because our group is the best in the world:
The next step: we feel comfortable being ourselves.
Over time, we step out of ethnocentrism and into cultural relativity. We recognize that other perspectives are valid. In the past, we would have called someone immature or irrational; now we understand that they’ve had a different set of life experiences that have led them different conclusions.
Wisdom is growing out of the bubble that insists we have access to The One True Worldview—it’s a quieting of the ego. Seeing ourselves as a drop in the ocean. We are no longer attached to the rules imposed by our group (decreased ethnocentrism); we recognize that others have lives (which allows us to not take things personally); and we see that the way we are and how we view truth has been shaped by arbitrary cultural norms, language.
If we have an answer, a data point, we acknowledge that it’s just a momentary snapshot of precision, rather than an all-encompassing truth about the universe. When we can accept that all existence is temporary and all lives have innate value, we are freed of the need to feel special or accomplished.
This is a very long-winded way of rationalizing why I had no idea how to answer that guy’s question.
I’m too wise, dammit. I can see both sides. Since reading about ego development, I’ve noticed the subtle differences of how often people give advice out of a need to feel special rather than help.
People at one of those middle phases of maturity—seeing their own group as the best, feeling the need to be recognized by them—are the ones with all the answers and need for acknowledgement.
I love this framework for wisdom, although it’s a little unsettling to realize that the kind of people who are the loudest, the people who shout out the answers—who wind up writing books on self-development, craft frameworks for how to live, who lead us at work—lack the kind of perspective that’s most useful in the long-term.
I know very little, and I’m okay with that. Numbers aren’t objective; data points are collected by fallible humans. We are all here temporarily and knowing that makes me want to stop working so hard, take a breather, and enjoy now more intensely.
I’m not the kind of person who’s ever going to work myself to the bone. The joy of success is fleeting: I have reached my life goals and now just want to take a nap and hug everyone. I have nothing to prove, and just want to others to know that everything we read about work is written by workaholics and a cultural myth that needs to be questioned.
But you should definitely give me a million dollars and share this with everyone you know:
Thanks for reading! Show love by sharing or clicking the heart button, that’s always very appreciated! If you liked this, please share with someone who’d like it. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I value feedback (suggestions, critiques, etc.) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Giving someone specific, actionable advice also requires knowing where they’re starting from. WE DON’T KNOW.