How to Prove You Know Everything

by Jesse Lahey on June 5, 2013

How to Prove You Know EverythingAs I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered this simple math:

What I know < All knowledge

What I know < What I forgot

When I was a high-school junior, my Political Science teacher tried to explain to the class the fundamental reason why knowledge creates wisdom: the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I thought I understood his point. Now, I realize I’d only caught a glimpse of what he meant. Thirty years from now, I suppose I’ll have a similar realization about my 2013 level of understanding.

I’ve also discovered this logical proof:

I don’t know everything.

I don’t even remember most of what I know.

One thing I know: I don’t know and remember much.

When I forget that, I remember it the next time I forget something.

I forget things all the time, so I remember this all the time.

There’s a lot of wisdom in knowing this. In fact, it may be all there is to truly know.

I know this, I remember it all the time, and it’s all there is to know; therefore…

I know everything. (OK, not really.)

Two Things a Leader Needs

Effective leadership requires a mysterious mix of self-confidence and humility. (I’m convinced that I possess this mix, but I might not have it as well as everyone else.)

  • Self-confidence grows from experience: setting worthwhile goals, achieving successes, coming back from failures
  • Humility comes from perspective: realizing more acutely how much we don’t know, often even when we think we do know.

When I was in my teens and 20s, I was proud of my memory and mental quickness. I felt like a powerful computer, with plenty of hard-drive space and excess RAM. Now that I’m nearly 40, I often feel like a computer with most of the hard drive filled up, all the RAM in use, and too many windows open.

I think I’m still powerful, but in different ways. If I’m a computer, I have a more sensitive microphone, better able to pick up on what people (including myself) are thinking and feeling. I run stronger analytical software, making better assessments and seeing connections between different ideas. And though I may not be able to retrieve each byte of data from the books I’ve read, speakers I’ve heard, and conversations I’ve had, my firmware has been updated repeatedly to retain many of the bigger, timeless truths those people have taught me.

So I have reasons to be self-confident. But I also have the perspective that keeps me aware that I’m not the smartest guy in the room. (Well, at this moment I am, because I’m currently the only guy in this room.)

Assess yourself. What are your reasons for self-confidence, and for humility?

Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast, host of the Game Changer podcast series, and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.

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