I have a client who teaches at the college level, and over-prepares for class so that he won’t be without an answer to virtually any question a student might ask. Impossible, right? And yet I understand: I often did the same thing when I taught college, and felt so much anxiety to have answers when delivering a paper at a conference, I could barely function. It seems silly to me now, but it did not seem silly when I was experiencing it, and I know it doesn’t feel silly to my client. College professors are, as one theorist puts it, “the subject presumed to know,” and playing that role can lead to some distorted self-perceptions.
It would have been so much easier to simply allow myself to be human (i.e., imperfect), and therefore not knowledgeable about a great many things. I could have cited to myself the philosopher Aristotle’s observation that new knowledge is often a reminder of how much one still doesn’t know, or I could have had a sense of humor about my need to prove myself to others. I might have taught myself to be comfortable saying to a student or colleague 3 simple words: “I don’t know.” I might have cultivated more intellectual humility, otherwise described--in a recent article in an academic journal--as owning our limitations.
Intellectual humility is not only a relief, but is of benefit in other ways. A recent article in Greater Good Magazine cites a study that indicates owning our limitations enhances learning and increases open-mindedness. So, next time you’re in any situation in which you’re playing the role of “expert,” tell yourself this: Gaps in knowledge are just fine.
You're reading the Bad Thoughts Blog, which maintains that feeling good is as simple as thinking a better thought. I'm Debbie Covino, hypnotherapist, coach, speaker, author, and creator of the All Day Hypnosis© series, available at www.hypnotic-wellbeing.com
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