Competence or Ignorance?

When I was a young CEO, there was a ritual. Every night I would lay awake in bed wondering if they would figure out the next day that I had no idea what I was doing. I was 26 years old. I was in way over my head. I was terrified that people would realize I was making everything up as I went along. I had a nasty case of what is called “Imposter Syndrome.” I’ve come to learn that nearly everyone suffers from this malady from time to time. I have coached CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies who feel that the only reason they have their job is luck. They thought they were not talented enough. Smart enough. Charismatic enough. Maybe you have felt that way too?

 

Here’s the deal.

We are all making it up as we go along. There is no obvious path forward. We can make an educated guess. Take a thoughtful and well-reasoned approach. But in the end, we are all just doing the best we can with what we have.

 

Because of my successes at such a young age, in my mid-30s, I succumbed to hubris and overconfidence. I had the opposite of Imposter Syndrome. I thought I had all the right answers and was willing to challenge anyone to prove it. This was not a productive train of thought. I’m not sure what triggered it, but one day I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Yet, it was not Imposter Syndrome. I felt that I was exceptionally good in certain areas and wholly incompetent in others. I came to embrace my expertise while still admitting my ignorance. Now in my late 50s, my overriding theme is curiosity. How can I get better at what I already do well and learn new things in areas unfamiliar to me? I have accepted that I know almost nothing about almost everything. But there’s always a chance to learn.


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Competence or Ignorance?