We have all been there, reading the same line in a book or newspaper 5 times and still not getting it, trying to understand what our 401K is really invested in, or trying to pronounce hoity-toity french ingredients correctly while out at the latest hipster farm to table spot. The feeling of not always understanding what’s going on around us, was a feeling I remember as a kid and still face as an adult. I never grew out of it, and can’t imagine I ever will. Even though the subject matters may have changed, there are lots of things that baffle me on a daily basis. But why…why, is it so difficult for us to open our mouths, raise our hands and simply ask for clarity sometimes?
In finding a picture for this post, I did a search on google images and was surprise at how many pictures are about calling people out for asking ‘STUPID QUESTIONS’, wasting peoples time, answering sarcastically and overall judging them for asking in the first place. Tough crowd. I like homer’s approach personally.
I remember my first job out of college was working for Standard and Poors in the Structured Finance department in New York. Talk about intimidating, being there at Water & Wall Street, a young 22 year old going into big deal meetings. But I had earned my spot and they offered me the job so clearly they thought I knew everything I needed to know to do the job…right? Well just 2 weeks in I was in one meeting looking at the ever pervasive power point pages I was handed when I realized everything, EVERY SINGLE ‘WORD’ on the page was not a word but an abbreviation…and there was no key to know what they meant. The speaker of the meeting also had a lot of colloquialisms and phrases like ‘duckies & horsies’ and other mumbo jumbo. I was very lost. So I raised my hand, thinking (I’m probably going to get one of the those impatient looks for asking but at least I can use the fact that I’m new), and asked -What does this and that mean? The speaker was a little bummed at the interruption of his epic dialogue but he started speaking more in english and I left the meeting actually understanding what I was supposed to do (still not sure how I was going to actually accomplish it, but baby steps…again I was new). The best part though, was after the meeting, 2 different fairly senior folks came up to me and thanked me for my questions as they had no idea what he was talking about either. I guess they were embarrassed to ask… kinda stinks to be senior and not new I guess.
Over the last few years once I stopped working full time for an outside company, I have been tutoring math for middle and high schoolers on the side. I often tell these kids the same story because half of the time they are struggling because they are nervous to ask questions when a topic doesn’t stick. The teacher keeps going adding on more concepts and the kids just get lost in the weeds not having the foundation. So if we know asking questions is good, why is it still so hard to have the confidence to do so? Why do we feel so judged if we don’t know something?
The internet is great for looking up stuff and siri is fab for getting the nitty-gritty on how much an elephant weighs, but it also makes it seem like we have the ability to be experts in many things instantly. Just like people are ‘Facebook happy’ we can falsely feel ‘internet smart’ and consequently judgmental. ‘Just go google it, man!’ But the internet also has a ton of bad info and info that is out of context that can muddle up the waters.
Personally, as soon as I realize I don’t understand I have that moment of apprehension where I think, should I know this before I ask. I don’t want to be dependent on someone else to figure things out for me so it’s like a pride thing. Pride is a tough one. I try to tell my kids that curiosity is the most important thing because we have the ability to learn anything, but we need to think what are the good questions to ask first. We also need persistence to keep that drive to do the work to figure it out (like really figure it out, not just google it). I don’t really ever tell kids to be prideful. Do as I say and not as I do….
It’s kinda a simple thing, if you don’t know, ask. Young kids are programmed to ask, EVERYTHING. I definitely fail by sometimes not having the patience to give time to all the questions. It’s impossible to do so 100% of the time…Like when paying for groceries and trying to communicate in Spanish (horribly) and my daughter is tying her skirt over her head to the cart and pulling thing down on top of herself and my son insists on asking about why police need guns in a grocery store (again, living in a different country). What I try to do (again not a 100% accurate), but say, ‘great question, remind me when we get in the car as we drive your sister to the hospital and we’ll talk then’. Hopefully he at least keeps that confidence to keep asking. Also as they get more mature and naturally become more aware of the world and it’s judgement around them I hope their self-conscience doesn’t give them my prideful pause. Kids to their blessing are still new after all…
But aren’t we always kinda new as we change and switch gears across career and life? I’ve never been this age, with this age kids, living where I am, doing this kind of work before…Likewise even if I still were at the same company and fairly senior, I wouldn’t have had all the history of experiences obtained to this point. If only we could have the perspective that the world changes our interactions and dynamics daily and it’s more humbling to ask and not assume we should have all this information. You still can’t google a question in the exact context as your situation and get a perfect answer. We all must still do our homework and pull together all the information relevant to us no matter where we are, how old we are and what we want to know.
So let’s channel our inner Homer…I promise I won’t judge!