One of the most often asked questions I receive during podcast interviews is, “What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?”
This is actually one of the easiest questions for me to answer. There are two pieces of advice.
The first is, “listen a lot more…and speak a lot less.” (Both were definitely issues.)
But, it’s the second one that’s the biggie. I’d relate—with an exclamation mark in my voice—to “younger Burg” one of my all-time favorite sayings:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I don’t know who originally said that. Mark Twain is often credited. While he said something somewhat similar in one of his books, he didn’t quite say that.
Regardless, in my opinion, it’s brilliant, and it’s something I wish I’d known those many years ago when I thought I knew it all.
What a difference-maker that would have been!
At 20, I was absolutely, positively, and without question certain that I knew how the world worked and what people thought. And, why they were wrong.
It call came down to what I thought; no, what I knew. And, what I knew that I knew.
Except that it turned out I didn’t. Not even close. I ended up being so very wrong about so many things.
As human beings, we make decisions and judgements based on very, very limited information.
We tend to do this well after we are 20 years old. I did. I’m sure I still do.
Sometimes, what we know that “just ain’t so” simply fits the belief system in which we grew up. Other times it’s the beliefs and words of our friends, teachers, peer group, political party, or even those things our favorite media personalities believe.
Of course, there are times when what we know for sure is indeed true. But I suspect that’s far less often than we’d like to believe.
The good news is that the moment we become aware of this phenomenon of human nature, we can take steps to correct it.
My friend, leadership authority Jesse Lyn Stoner, tweeted:
“Instead of believing everything you think, think about what you really believe.”
Screenwriter and producer Britt Michaelian tweeted:
“Whatever it is that you resist can only be effectively transcended if you question every ‘certainty’ along the way.”
And, 100 years earlier, iconic playwright George Bernard Shaw tweeted (only kidding) ;-):
“Progress is impossible without change, and those that cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
The above quotes remind me of how my 20-year-old self absolutely knew what he knew… that just wasn’t so.
Seems we see this constantly these days on television, social media, and pretty much wherever people meet in person. And from all the various points of view, right?
Not only would I like to see more respectful and civil communication between those with opposing viewpoints; I’d like to see us questioning our own beliefs just to make sure that what we absolutely know for sure…really IS so.