How Our Ego Keeps Us from Learning New Things

When we are born as helpless little babies, we are essentially sponges. We soak up knowledge from everyone and everything around us as we learn how to navigate life. As we get older, we go to school and learn more about how to take care of ourselves. Do you remember feeling proud to show your friends or parents something new you learned? Why is it that many of us reach a stage in our lives where we see a chance to learn something new as an attack to our ego?

There is Nothing Good About a Know-It-All

I have a bad habit of feeling affronted when people question whether I know what I am doing — and I know I am not the only person who has this reaction. What I’ve been pondering lately is how I can change the way my pride negatively impacts my ability to learn from other people.

Obviously, not all of us have pride issues, but I know I do. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to be the person with the information that others needed. I wanted to feel useful, helpful, and intelligent. And while being a helpful person is not a bad thing, I know that I have to be careful that I don’t tie “knowing things” to my self-worth. When someone questions something I say or do, it shouldn’t make me mad. It should open a door to a discussion, and potentially a chance to learn something new.

In an effort to curb my prideful, know-it-all tendencies, I am focusing on being a learner. Here, I am outlining what practicing the “art of not knowing” means to me so far — and how I am working towards becoming a better version of myself.

Practicing the Art of Not Knowing

Learning new things should be exciting. Whether it’s a new skill, a greater understanding, or a challenge to grow as a person — we should be looking for opportunities to learn. Many of us get stuck in a trap of trying to seem like we have everything covered. 

Telling Our Ego to Take a Back Seat

There are certain authority figures and information sources in our lives, like teachers, books, and parents, that most of us trust to teach us things without allowing it to bruise our ego. But what about when a younger sibling has something to teach us? An annoying coworker? Our own kids? There are certain places that we don’t like to learn from because our pride gets in the way.

It sounds ridiculous, but so much of the time, I would rather find a book or watch some stranger’s vlog about how to do something. Part of the issue, at least for me, seems to live in letting others know that I lack knowledge in an area. It’s pride. It’s a need to feel like I am capable. And I believe it also keeps me from learning from some of the really wonderful people in my life.

We can practice being a learner by being open about when we don’t know everything already. Sometimes just saying, “I don’t know very much about _____, but I would love to learn more about it” out loud is difficult. Instead of BS-ing my way through a conversation about a topic, I am trying to admit more often that I just don’t know.

Openness to Differing Perspectives

Being open to differing opinions and perspectives applies especially to information that is subjective. There are times where I have to remind myself that my subjective perspective isn’t necessarily more correct than someone else’s. For those of us whose brains see life through a practical and logic-focused lens, being open to learning from emotionally-driven people can pose a special challenge.

When we can acknowledge that their perspective is different, but not wrong, it allows us to peek over that stubborn wall of pride. We have to take a step back, ask more questions, and then use their point-of-view to learn more.

My baby sister (who isn’t a baby anymore) has always been more emotionally-driven. Because of this, our decision-making strategies frequently conflict, even when we have the same end goals. When I take the time to listen to her reasons for feeling or acting a certain way, I learn more about a different way to go about things. It might not mean that I change my mind, but it allows me an opportunity to question my perspective. Sometimes other people have a point! Who knew! 

Next personal challenge: Being able to say out loud that I was wrong, or that my perspective has changed. Talk about having to practice putting my ego aside…

Intentional Contentment: Resting in Not Knowing Everything

No one person can know everything and we all have our own gifts, talents, and perspectives to share with each other. Instead of focusing on what we know, I think we all might benefit from practicing not knowing.

Being content with not having all the answers offers peace of mind. It also gives us an opportunity to need others. Feeling needed and useful is wonderful, and many of us are so focused on not needing anyone that we are robbing our loved ones of an opportunity to share with us.

Let’s give ourselves a rest and be more willing to listen and learn from the people around us. I’m working on it! And I’m practicing being okay with others knowing I am working on it.

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