You Don’t Know How Much You Know

I talk all the time about how you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s one of the most important things in life — the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.

But the reverse is also true — you don’t know how much you know.

And you won’t know, until there’s a context that draws it out.

We hold a vast amount of information that we never properly pin down, identify, and articulate. If there’s never a context in which you have to pin down an idea, you might never know it’s there.

It’s like driving through your town and never noticing all the mechanics’ shops that exist there until your car breaks down; at which point, you start to notice them everywhere. Or like never noticing that there’s kale in the produce aisle of most grocery stores, until you start cooking with it, at which point you see it every time you walk through the store.

If there’s never a context for our brains to stop and focus on something, we might never know it’s there.

We pick up information all the time — through conversations, content we consume, and things we experience and observe in life — and our brains file it away (and slowly process it for future use). But until we force ourselves to articulate it, we may never know it’s there.

This is why blogging is so valuable — because you have to stop and coalesce ideas that might otherwise never become concrete.

It’s why teaching and coaching have been so valuable to me — because when people ask me questions I’ve never considered before, I’m forced to try to answer them — which often leads me to realize I have answers I didn’t know I had.

When people ask me tough questions, I start to realize how much I don’t know that I don’t know. But at the same time, I start to realize how much I do know, that I never really saw before. I find myself intending to stall for time and turn out answering the question instead, in phrases and ideas I didn’t know I carried with me — but that, from that point forward, become deeply valuable to me.

There are few things in life more important than refining your knowledge. Seek this out constantly.

Give yourself writing prompts and force yourself to write. Put yourself in situations where you have to have philosophically challenging conversations. Seek out positions where you have to answer hard questions. When you force yourself to say things you haven’t said before, you realize just how much you didn’t realize you knew.

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