“Argh! I’m so stupid!”
I had just called the bank to find out why my debit card didn’t work at the store and discovered that my idea of my account balance and my actual balance didn’t sync up exactly. In fact, I was overdrawn. Not that I’d had much extra cash in the first place. A few tasty snacks were enough to push me over my balance.
As I exclaimed again to the empty room about how stupid I was, I threw my checkbook and pen against the wall, where the pen broke and left a blue ink stain on the paint.
I was only nineteen, sweeping up floors at a theater and borrowing space on my mother’s couch. I was already living on thin margins. Now, in addition to figuring out where I’d gone wrong in my checkbook, I would also have to get cleaning supplies for the mess on the wall.
Learning how to reframe the concept of being stupid
I’m much older now. I don’t throw my financial recording instrument at the wall like I used to—mainly because it’s a laptop, but also because I’ve matured somewhat. But I continue to fail and feel “stupid” regularly. Sometimes I even put myself in situations that will make me feel that way on purpose.
For example, I recently decided to learn to code in a big way. Even though I’ve been messing around with computers since the early 1980s, the learning curve has been steep.
I decided early on that I would approach learning how to code through a personal project, in the hopes that it would help me learn faster than a course. I was going to make an online book and movie database for my family, so we could all see what books and movies we owned at a glance. Armed with a manual on creating a similar site using PHP and some previous knowledge of HTML and CSS, I dove in with the enthusiasm and excitement typically reserved for moon landings and PostMates deliveries.
Three months later, I was kicking myself for being so shortsighted. My half-baked idea was getting nowhere, fast. I kept running snippets of code that should have worked but refused to cooperate for unknown reasons. I wondered if maybe, I just wasn’t smart enough to tackle something like a complex database after all. Who was I to think I could build something so challenging right out of the gate? I put my project on hold, waiting for a time when my brain might somehow improve on its own – which, incidentally, never happened.
Then I listened to an interview with Mike Little, one of the founders and original developers of the website platform WordPress. During the interview, he mentioned that when he recently went back into the WordPress code, it took him a while to get readjusted. Even then, he spent a lot of time googling PHP code to figure out what he was doing. He got stuck more than a few times.
What? I thought, This seasoned developer who created the world’s most popular website platform still has to Google code? I was floored. I was also invigorated. Once again, I realized that my barrier to coding genius wasn’t a lack of smarts, it was simply a lack of education and experience. That could be remedied! I immediately got to work, filling the gaps in my knowledge.
I also read an article in a similar vein by our own Neil Hughes, about his ambitious experiment to have one of his articles written by artificial intelligence. I know Neil, and I know he is a smart person. If he also gets stuck doing this stuff, then maybe the problem isn’t that I’m stupid, but rather I need to take it easy on myself.
Why we need to be gentle with ourselves
Stupid is a strong word. It’s also totally inaccurate. Machines are stupid. Computers are stupid. Even smartphones are pretty stupid when you consider that they need human input to do anything for us. Humans, on the other hand, are super smart beings with an almost limitless capacity to learn. Maybe we should stop using the word “stupid” to describe ourselves, ever.
If we can take a moment to breathe and calm ourselves, we might discover the truth. We’re not stupid, we just haven’t mastered the thing we’re trying to do. As multipotentialites, the fact that we’re almost always in a state of learning new things means that we often feel like we’re failing.
In the case of my checkbook, I was nineteen and had never been taught how to manage my money. Even though I could do simple math, I didn’t understand things like service charges, or how to keep track of them every month. Once I learned how it worked, I no longer felt like I was stupid, even if I still messed up occasionally.
Are you bad at the thing, or just new to the thing?
When first uncovering a new interest, we multipotentialites tend to dive in deep very quickly. While it can feel exciting at first, it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy in the brains department. Especially with experiences that often require extensive learning, like programming or cooking, a deep dive can feel like we’ve suddenly landed in quicksand.
In my case, creating a complex movie and book database app was probably several steps ahead of where I should have started. Perhaps if I had taken a few courses in PHP or built a few small projects first, I would have felt more adept when I moved into more complex projects.
Even when we feel an unbounded passion for a new pursuit, it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re venturing into new waters.
Though we multipotentialites may imagine ourselves swimming with dolphins, dipping our toes in the ocean first can be a smart move. Once we’ve waded in and noticed where the rip currents are, we’ll be much more prepared when we finally meet up with that dolphin.
As multipotentialites, we probably feel “stupid” more than most. The nature of trying new things and exploring new territory means that we’re in a continual state of learning. That can make us feel stupid, although there are many more accurate words for what’s actually going on. We should get used to that feeling, though—not because we are stupid, but because when we make peace with not knowing things, we open ourselves up to better and deeper learning.
When was a time you felt stupid while learning something new? How did you deal with those feelings? Share your experiences with your fellow multipods in the comments below.