Monday, May 5, 2008

Feeling Dumb May Be the Smartest Thing You've Ever Done

Have you ever felt like the dumbest person in the room? If not, I highly recommend it.

I just returned from the SOBCON08 in Chicago. That's a conference for bloggers. That means a bunch of people knew a whole lot more than I did about everything blogging, web-related and a lot of technical stuff. I had dinner with people I were convinced were speaking Klingon at times.

"Well, you've got to take the XRwhingerwhammer jitbat and use it to open the Latvian mother's code or it will take you to the goose ginger," said Lorelle VanFossen.

People like Brian Clark and Chris Garrett, co-author of "ProBlogger" would nod and jump in with: "But don't forget the hangman's fifth gibber or the pickleman's lockdown."

OK, at times I threw in something if if I knew what they were talking about. But I did a lot of listening and asked a lot of questions. It was pretty reflective of a weekend where I spent most of it asking:

"How do I?"
"What's that?"
"Where do I find that?
"How does that work?"

And of course, the ever present: "Huh?"

But I had a lot of "A-HA!" moments as well. It felt like a giant, weekend-long V-8 commercial because I was slapping myself upside the head so much. "Why didn't I do that?" I thought (slap). "I could have done that!"(slap) "Why didn't I think of that before!"(slap)

David Bullock had the answer: Everyone feels that way. No one knows all the answers, and we're all going to make mistakes along the way. What you DO know is of value.

So, as much as I was often confused and feeling pretty dumb, I really enjoyed every minute of it. I started to get it. I started to understand. (OK, maybe not all the tech talk, but I took a lot of notes so I could look up stuff later.)

I had a weekend of mental gymnastics, of being around people that made me feel dumb -- but were also really nice and willing to let me learn from them and ask questions. And here's the thing: By jumping out of my comfort zone and exposing myself to people and ideas and thoughts and viewpoints that were new to me, I started to see possibilities and opportunities and new paths for myself and my career.

And that was really, really important. At a time when newsrooms across the country look like Tony Soprano and his gang have been there because so many bodies have been whacked, it was really energizing and uplifting to know that I didn't have to give up what I love doing, I just had to think of it in different ways.

I can't think of any better career advice for today. I want you to think of talking to someone today, of experiencing something this week, that makes you feel dumb. Ask questions. Learn. Grow.

I dare you.


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Robert Hruzek said...

Now that sounds like the best summation of SOBCon08 I've heard to date! Good one, Anita!

Your talk was excellent, too, on a subject that unfortunately many people don't give enough thought to. And it's proof of Dave's statement, "What you DO know is of value."


Anita said...

Thank you for the kind words about my talk...looking into the crowd and seeing all those people nodding in agreement or as an expression of understanding was very, very gratifying. And, for me, it was an affirmation of who I am and what I believe in, and that was so empowering.
By the way, really like the hat. Very cool.

Lorelle said...

Well, realize that this goes the other way around. You were speaking Greek to a lot of people in the room, too. :D

I feel the same way at many of the conferences I'm invited to speak at when I'm the keynote but truly out of my realm of expertise. Klingon? I think they are speaking Tamarian - in metaphors.

It was so wonderful to meet you and thank you so much for putting a sense of responsibility for the words into the heads of the SOBCon attendees. Freedom of speech comes with a responsibility, as does hitting that publish button, and so many people forget that.

Anita said...

I can't quit thinking of all I learned (and all that I have yet to learn once I decipher my notes) from all the people at the conference, including you. Not to be too goofy about it, but the one common language we did speak was one of genuine interest in the other person and a real effort to learn from one another. As one conference attendee put it: priceless.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome, Anita. Great post--great challenge!
I can't wait to see what happens next! Well done!

Anita said...

I just hope that I can remember it all. And my greatest wish is to pass it on ... get ready!

the communicatrix said...

You said it, sister: when you're willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone, amazing things happen.

I'm delighted to have heard and met you this past weekend. I'm also exhausted, but that's hardly your fault, now, is it?

Karen Putz said...

I enjoyed your talk because it brought me back to a journalism class that I took long ago and reminded me why I need to be careful before hitting that "publish" button.

Last year at SOBCon, I felt like I was in a foreign land too. This year was different. Come back next year, and you'll speak the language like a pro. :)

Anita said...

I'm equally as tired, but I think we're all responsible. We challenged ourselves and one another to creatively and mentally scale Mt. Everest...who wouldn't be pooped?? But it's a good kinda tired, isn't it?
The really cool thing was I came home and confounded my teenage son with my new knowledge. To hear him say "what?" when he seems to know everything these days was truly a gratifying moment as a mother.

Anonymous said...


This one made me laugh and smile. Thanks for the belly laugh. That felt good.

I know about the V-8 slapping business. I went through it myself!

Your presentation was awesome and I did some head slapping after you presented your ideas. They were very much on target and riveting. You're a very good speaker and I look forward to staying in touch with you.

Have a fabulous week ahead and make sure you buy yourself an ice pack for your forehead to heal the swelling from all the slapping happening. LOL

Anonymous said...


I wanted to add that I love your last response to Karen about coming home to a teenage son who finally said "What?" after thinking he knew everything. That was funny!

Anita said...

I very much enjoyed giving the presentation, but I feel like I got much more than I gave. What a smart, inspiring, energizing group of people. Like drinking a gallon of V-8! So glad you've joined my blog have a lot to offer.

Anonymous said...

I recently started a whole new field within my field, and I find it fascinating. I was scared to death, because I am an expert in my field and this is a subdivision of it that I really don't know much about. I was afraid of looking dumb. Now being dumb was the best thing that ever happenned to me. I love the learning, and the ideas are really scintillating.

Anita said...

Change is often a scary thing, but I think if we consider the fact that we have a whole lifetime to learn and grow, it just seems like a natural part of our evolution. I'm so glad to hear of someone just "going for it"! Congratulations and best of luck in your new endeavor!