How to Look Stupid (And Get Smarter)
You know that moment. The one that finds you in the middle of a conversation, with absolutely zero idea what anyone is talking about. Maybe someone just launched into a discussion of the glacier melting in Greenland (a country you’ve seriously never talked about, ever) or the emergence of ISIS (which you’d heretofore only ID’ed as a badass Egyptian goddess). Wait, aren’t you a grownup? Aren’t you supposed to know everything? Maybe you let your mind wander, or maybe you nod intently, feigning engagement. But, deep down, you kinda feel like an idiot.
Well, guess what? You’re not an idiot, despite what you’ve just experienced. Your mind is powerful, you’re unique, and you’re not stupid. But humans lose our effective learning abilities over time, meaning that we’re less likely to absorb information as we age. So, clearly, we all need to . . .
. . . Wait, what was I talking about?
Oh yeah. That moment. I’ve been there – I’ve been sitting at a dinner table, surrounded by seemingly expert peers, feeling totally lost and wondering if I can somehow Wikipedia the topic at hand without anyone noticing.
And, as an educator, I’m a pretty good detector of the truth that lies beneath the “Oh yes, I understand” nods. I know when my trainees don’t get it – mostly, again, because I’ve been there. Same nod, same lack of comprehension.
If you ever find yourself wanting to learn more in those clueless moments, even if you feel sheepish about it, try the strategies below to give yourself a boost.
- Commit to asking your questions, even if they seem stupid. You’re probably not the only one who can’t exactly remember where Greenland is. Don’t judge yourself. Asking questions is an admirable skill – it demonstrates your ability to pay attention and probe more deeply into discussions. (I promise that someone in the group, someone less daring than you, will be thrilled that you asked before they were forced to.)
- Once you’ve committed, go ahead and be all “Hold up, where is Greenland again?!” with complete confidence. Don’t apologize. Wait for the answer, thank the responder, flash a big smile, and move things along. Crack a joke if that comes naturally to you.
- Feel free to look things up in realtime. And feel free to say that you’re doing so. Example: Ask, fingers poised over smartphone keyboard, “Hey, I didn’t catch [specific detail] – where can I find more about it?”
- Stay current in a way that works for you. If you “don’t have time to read the news,” you’re in luck – we’ve curated our top three ways to learn about what’s going on in the world without spending a ton of time on it. And use technology to the fullest – check out Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, and podcasts that can help you learn what you wanna learn.
- Give yourself homework! Jot down topics or words you don’t understand on a notepad, your mobile phone, an index card, whatever works. Remember to actually do the homework. Schedule a time, daily or periodically, to review your list and educate yourself.
- Pass your own knowledge on. Everyone is an expert in something. And when you’re talking to others, remember your own clueless moments and check in with your audience to make sure they’re with you. Explain more if necessary. Learning is awesome!
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