I know enough to know that I don’t yet know what I don’t know yet.
I saw a post on Facebook the other day that showed the stages we go thru when learning in terms of how much actual knowledge we have:
- Huh? What is this?
- I know everything!!
- There’s more to this that I thought . . . (This is the pivotal moment when you realize that you don’t yet know what you don’t know yet)
- I’m never going to understand this…
- It’s starting to make sense.
- Trust me, it’s complicated.
I like this little graph because in its simplicity, it captures something that trips most people up.
That first stage of total ignorance of something is a universal experience that when we decide to learn more, turns into curiosity. So we pursue the new knowledge; when we get a bit of competence, suddenly we think we are prodigies! Master musicians! NFL material, UFC champ material. You get the idea: in our excitement of learning something, sometimes we get a bit ahead of ourselves, but not to worry, reality comes in to bring us back.
Reality gives us the gift of humility and restores our openness to learning new stuff. When we realize that we don’t yet know what we don’t know yet, we create the potential of finding the presently unknown knowledge. But as we all know, the process of discovery can be a slog. So, if we really want to pursue mastery, we dig in and push through that stage of feeling like there will never be mastery (ex. “I’ll never learn this whole song. I’ll never be able to run fast enough. I’ll never get this dissertation or thesis done”).
And then, right when we are starting to there’s no hope, we get hit on the head with an apple . . . or a light bulb turns on; either works. Something clicks and all the bits and pieces and chunks of knowledge we’ve been storing start to work as a unit! It’s coming together and making sense!! THIS is where the mastery itself begins. A martial arts teacher once told me that a student’s real training begins when they earn their black belt . . .that all the work up to that point is like pre-school, that the real education starts at that black belt.
Now we re-visit humility. We know more than we did in the beginning, and we are confident in what we know; but we also know enough that there is more yet to come. At this point, we have enough humility and expertise that we can begin to guide others through this process. Trust me, there’s an inner chuckle when you see yourself in your student! Having the wisdom, expertise, and humility to tell somebody that it may seem easy, but that there are nuances that go deeper than they appear, is a mark of a teacher. They do not discourage or put-down the student for being excited and over their skis a bit, they simply praise their curiosity and begin to present them with the building blocks, then the nuances, etc.