Worth Knowing

My relationship to knowing has changed over time. I used to think that I had to know how a thing worked, almost in its entirety, before attempting to try it myself. I spent a lot of money on personal and business self-help during my 3os and early 40s. I thought I could learn how to

parent well and wisely

understand people by understanding corporate cultures

prepare myself for leadership by reading about business management

train more effectively as a runner

allocate my time effectively without sacrificing relationships

be a better capitalist and become more lovable.

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I thought books could tell me, instruct me. And some of them did. Some of them helped me recognize a few things about myself. It was not all time and money spent in vain.

I worry less about not knowing enough these days. Instead, I have to think carefully about what it is I need to learn and with whom I might do that best. I’m into learning more than knowing. I have eyes on experimenting and trying, rather than the fool’s errand of perfecting. My interest in self-proclaimed authorities has waned, however targeted and invasive their marketing has become.

I’ve become more open to my own experience and its gifts. I worry less about the value of my offerings for others and instead take heart in the layers and depth of discovery that still await me; in myself and in the world. I choose words to do that more often than not and am curious about other kinds of representation.

One of the things that happens as I read more scholars across a range of disciplines is a fleeting unease at not having read other authors referenced or not recognizing the titles mentioned. It can be intimidating. As a reader I have at times felt excluded, placed at a remove from the author’s insights. Over time I’ve learned not to take this personally. It’s not a failing on my part, it’s simply that my time and energies for reading or other related activities have been spent elsewhere. Plus, each referenced work creates an opening, a potential.

Again, there’s that contrast between feeling obligated to know versus developing an interest in learning. The former feeds my sense of shame and unworthiness, the latter encourages me to make choices that may expand my horizons. The upshot is that I now read far more texts that stretch my thinking; that invite me to feel a little out of my depth for a bit. Successful authors are the ones who seed my curiosity and allow it to bloom as I read. Venturing into someone’s narrative becomes a co-created path. Yes, the author makes their case sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter while I as reader come along in my own tempo, following my own tangents where needed. No two readers are required to travel on the same reading trajectory of a given text. Nor can they entirely.

It’s freeing to realize this both as an impassioned reader and enthusiastic word wrangler. It’s fine and expected to not know loads of stuff. Even better, as adults in particular, we frequently get to choose what it is we want to learn more about as well as how, when and importantly with whom. That’s worth knowing.

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