Day 18: Idiot

I listened to a podcast today about a man, Alex, who was trying to bring on a business partner for his startup. His problem in this episode was how much of his company he should give to his partner so that he would agree to join. He offered 10 percent. His partner wanted almost 50.

So his business partner asked: What motivates your decisions to offer only 10 percent of the company?And Alex said something that was so honest.

He was afraid of being seen as an idiot — as someone who didn’t know any better than to give away more than he had to.

I’ve never heard anyone articulate that fear, much less admit it. I don’t think people are willing to reveal such a base motivation — one that has more to do with the fear of others seeing you as an idiot, than you yourself feeling you’re an idiot.

One of the best things that happened to me was that, in grad school, I was around a lot of people who knew way more than me. But my program encouraged looking like an idiot. As long as you could explain how you got to this decision, and you were honest about it, it was OK. So when I went back into the professional world, I tried to start every conversation as if I had the most to learn.

But the other say, I had a conversation with a person who acted as if he knew exactly what he was talking about. This was a technical matter — one that I am quite familiar with — so I knew what he was saying was total crap. So I called him out on it. I was so angry that someone would be so willing to mislead me, merely because they didn’t want to admit they didn’t know something.

But then I realized something: I do that too.

I am also afraid of looking like an idiot. I tell myself it’s OK. But I feel like if I am exposed, then I will be treated like an idiot — talked to like an idiot.

But I’m trying to be OK with being treated like an idiot. I’m trying to be OK with not preemptively acting like a know-it-all, because if I’m treated like an idiot, it’s most likely because the other person has the same fears. But the hope is that, if I don’t escalate that situation, then the other person won’t either. If we both approach it as if we have a lot to learn, they we’re all idiots trying to survive in this dangerous world.

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