I was reminded of an eye-opening quote once again today while listening to a podcast episode of the Tim Ferriss show: Howard Marks — How to Invest with Clear Thinking. Though commonly attributed to Mark Twain despite little proof he actually said it, the quote touches on a great concept: that overconfidence and bullheadedness can be your downfall. Howard Marks discussed the quote as a way to exhibit the dangers of hubris in relation to investing, though it can be applied to so many more areas of life. It is extremely important to be cognizant of the fact that you could be wrong–about anything–so that you stay humble and make the best possible decisions when necessary.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
A younger me was convinced that the “best” personalities were characterized by loud voices and a form of confidence that does not require personal reflection. I assumed success could only be had if I stopped over-analyzing my actions and my opinions, and just started believing I was right all the time. Surely the most successful and well-liked people didn’t ever doubt themselves or have to think through their decisions before making them, right? It took me awhile to reprogram my understanding of what I characterized as the optimal personality traits, but I now know the value of what I once despised within myself–hesitation.
At my best moments, I’ve evaluated every possible action I could take before taking a step in any direction and, at my worst, I’ve walked away from a discussion or exchange frustrated that I had not said what I practiced in my head moments before. It wasn’t until I spent a few years testing what I was capable of, as an introvert and deep thinker, that I began to appreciate my apprehension, which I had once considered a life-long weaknesses. Though the more extreme degree of this trait required practice to overcome and plenty of embarrassing attempts at determining how I fit within my social sphere, there is a degree hesitation that truly enriches decision-making and human interaction.
It’s resulted in an inclination to pause any time I am expected to express an opinion or reference a fact. The world is a complicated place and it tends to run rampant with misinformation as false stories and assertions float around online as well as in everyday conversations, so there are very few instances in which I will refuse to reevaluate one of my own beliefs or assumptions. This has served me well, seeing as I have benefited much more from having the patience and curiosity to learn from others’ beliefs than I have by closing myself off from others because I assume I am right or have nothing to learn from the other person. Playing the ignorance or superiority card only harms yourself and those around you.
In addition to that, I have also witnessed how powerful it is to delay confrontation when accused of or blamed for something and maintain a sense of curiosity about what is driving it. When you wait to allow emotion and your own beliefs interrupt your judgement in a heated scenario, it’s likely you will discover there was a misunderstanding or, at the very least, garner respect for how well you handled the situation. A lot of times, the person on the other end is apologetic for how they approached the situation and you can rest easy having refused to use your own belief as a weapon against the other person. Because, for all you know, you could be wrong too.
All this being said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being an outspoken person with obvious confidence, but there does seem to be a bias in Western society leaning toward appreciate this personality type more than the “quiet” and thoughtful one. It fails to recognize the immense benefits of being cautious and treading lightly when necessary. If we pass by the silent observer or people who take more time to formulate their contributions thinking they don’t have anything beneficial to provide us, we’re missing out on a wealth of ideas and other perspectives. It takes a strong person to admit they’re wrong and it takes a whole lot of practice to objectively reevaluate your beliefs when they’re threatened.
I’ve reflected on this topic a lot, especially as I’ve grown to appreciate my own personality and how I veer toward the chance I may be wrong rather than the certainty I am right, which is why I’m expressing my thoughts on the matter in the hopes others can benefit from pieces of it. Introversion does not go hand-in-hand with hesitancy, well-thought out decisions, or an inclination to accept when you are wrong, but it has personally helped me develop those traits. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so feel free to use the comment section or email me under the “contact” tab. I love to share thoughts with others and really appreciate your interest. Thanks for reading!