Knowing Your Limits/Accepting or Mitigating Intellectual Failure
July 24, 2011 3:11 PM Subscribe
I have a serious problem with being seen to be intellectually 'wrong'. I need ways to get over it
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I consider myself to be an intelligent, popular guy. I'm a creative thinker, and currently studying for a PhD that I am proud of. I am the kind of person who revels in being right, being clever, understanding the world. As a teacher/tutor I also love to share knowledge with others, and believe that a good teacher is capable of learning from their students.
When I am surrounded by people I respect, in a conversational situation, I have no problems debating, sharing ideas, learning new things because of misunderstandings I've carried around. But in a public forum, confronted by people I don't know personally I suffer from a terrible fear of making a fool of myself.
This sounds run of the mill, right, everyone worries about how they are perceived by others? But it haunts me.
The other day I chaired a discussion between three academics. They were each delivering papers on the work of a specific author, who also happened to be in the audience. After they had delivered their papers it was my job to ask a question that united their work and opened up discussion to the rest of the audience. My question was valid, it felt that way, but I think I delivered it a bit chaotically. In many ways, and this is probably a big part of my problem, what I did was tried to ask a question I didn't have a complete tool-kit to put into words. So although in a conversational mode I could have phrased it right, promoted an interesting discussion, in this one-off situation I ended up tripping a bit. Perhaps I aimed above my ability.
Everyone does this. And I don't judge people who I see do this, but still the event haunts me. It's like I'm carrying it around like a rotten shadow that won't budge. Like a cloud.
This problem will only get more pronounced as I move into academia. I don't fear getting up in front of an audience, I don't fear putting my work out there, what I fear is people wondering "what they hell is he doing there?"
I hate the thought that clever people won't think I am clever.
I fear not being able to justify my words, my actions, my ideas. A lot of academic banter is instant, and has to be precise, articulate. I fear that my fear will only further erode my articulacy in front of others.
How do I get over this? How do I promote a modesty in my self-presentation? How do I assess where I sit in the food-chain of intelligence, and be happy to remain there? be happy to use my abilities without carrying this knot around in my stomach whenever I make a tiny error?
How do I accept that it's ok to not know/understand everything?