All that can be known is how much is unknown. And the unknown is a bottomless abyss staring back at us, laughing at our futile attempts to wrest knowledge from it’s depths.
One of the things I have become most familiar with in my life is feeling dumb. Trust me, I feel dumb all the time. If you know me, you can verify this: It’s not just a feeling. There are so many things I don’t know that it is frightening. And it isn’t just breadth, like I don’t know the proper way to remove a cyst when operating on someone. It’s depth. I am in the Internet advertising business, yet there are many things I don’t know about Internet advertising. I have bought a fair amount of inventory via RTB, yet I am not the world’s leading expert in RTB. I sell mobile ads all day, yet there are many nuances both to mobile advertising in general and our products specifically, that continue to elude me.
Being scared and feeling dumb is a bummer, but I think it is a fact of life. Very few things of interest are so simple that they can be completely mastered. All that can truly be known is how much is unknown. And the unknown is a bottomless abyss staring back at us, laughing at our futile attempts to wrest knowledge from it’s depths.
I am not alone in this. People don’t spend a lot of time talking about how scared they are, but many of us are. I think all of us scared people lump the people who aren’t scared into two buckets:
- People who have colossal egos (don’t envy) (ok, maybe a bit)
- People who are incredibly zen (envy! envy! envy!)
Many of us experience periodic moments of zen (and moments of colossal ego), but at night, when you reflect on how things go, terror is common.
This kind of thing is something that Sheryl Sandberg talks about extensively in Lean In as a barrier for women. I can’t say every woman faces this – It isn’t something people discuss around the water cooler – but Sheryl discusses extensively how women don’t put themselves forward for promotion because they don’t feel qualified for the promotion until they have already done the work and demonstrated that they can do the job.
As you work your way up the ladder of an organization and an industry and a profession, you see the mountains on the horizon, you walk towards them, and you realize that they are further away than you thought. You climb hills, but the peaks usually recede constantly into the distance. Very, very few people ever truly mount their peak. And those who say they have are probably wrong.
I tell everybody these days that I have started writing a book about digital advertising. On the one hand, it is going well. (I have a draft!) On the other, it is awful. There is so much I don’t know about digital advertising, even though I have been in this industry for a decade now. When I think about the book I wracked by knowledge of how much I don’t know. And the only consolation I have is knowing that there is not a better book out there. But I experience the terror that while I am unaware of a better book, people will read it and scoff.
Putting yourself out there as an expert appears to be a terrifying experience. Into the void.