A recent conversation with a colleague highlighted a challenge that I’ve been having for a while: does my work help people? Or does it simply add to the noise?
I love writing these monthly posts for Thin Difference and feel incredibly grateful that my job involves lots of reading, writing, and editing. I have been fortunate to work on, and publish, some incredible pieces of writing. I have grown leaps and bounds as a writer, been able to indulge my curiosity with research and data analysis, and collaborated with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Finding a Voice Without Faking Confidence
And yet, underneath that gratitude and excitement runs a nagging apprehension. Who am I to write posts that advise business leaders, consultants and coaches, managers, and team members? I’m just a front-line worker, an individual contributor, a former student of literature, and a bit of a book nerd. My background isn’t in business, and I’ve never been a manager or worked for a large organization. I often feel like I simply don’t have the credentials for the work that I do. I’ve made great progress toward overcoming imposter syndrome, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Some days I worry that my employer will figure out that I tricked them into giving me my job.
Everywhere I look there is great content, written by far more confident people than me. (Or maybe they’re just better at appearing confident?). And to be honest, I find their confidence a bit jarring.
There are a lot of articles that are written from the perspective of “this worked for me, so it must work for you too.” The type of posts that encourage everyone to “find their passion”—without ever acknowledging that the ability to switch jobs comfortably is a mark of privilege and a degree of financial success. Or that claim that the path to greater happiness and productivity is to start every day with an hour of meditation at 5am—which they fail to acknowledge would be impossible for people who work late, have very young children, or simply aren’t morning people.
These are the articles where the author proclaims that “money isn’t everything,” which tells me that they’ve always had more than enough (or are far enough past their days of scraping and saving that they’ve lost the sting of it). The posts that claim “Millennials want this one thing more than a big paycheck,” which shows an amorphous, whitewashed perception of a generation. The posts that define success in a very narrow way, and assume that definition holds true for everyone.
At best, these posts lack self-awareness. At worst, they belie an arrogance that makes accepting their advice feel impossible.
The authors of these articles seem impossibly confident, and I often envy their apparent certainty. They have credentials: books, speaking tours, a history of growing a team or increasing profits, a blue check on their Twitter profiles. What they lack in self-awareness they make up for with bravado — bold enough to be loud, unflinchingly confident that they are right.
But maybe what the world needs is a bit less certainty. Maybe we need more nuance, more acknowledgment of the different circumstances that mean each person has a unique experience of the world. Maybe we need writers and thinkers who continue to contribute to the world in spite of those feelings of being never quite enough. People who understand, both implicitly and explicitly, that their experience of the world does not reflect the experiences of everyone else, and that it is not a moral failing or symptom of incompleteness to not know everything.
Maybe what the world needs is a bit less certainty.Tweet
Perhaps what I find most intimidating about the professional space I inhabit, is also one of my greatest assets—I understand (sometimes acutely painfully) that there is a lot I don’t know. It can be a bit scary to hit send or publish and share a piece of writing with the world (or perhaps more accurately, with a small corner of the internet), but I push through because I’ve made a commitment and know that people are counting on me.
Perhaps what I can offer is my uncertainty. My reticence. My skepticism toward anyone who claims, either implicitly or explicitly, to have it all figured out. My partial answers and my qualified, perhaps even tentative, expression that “this has worked for me, and by no means am I suggesting that it will be a slamdunk for you, but here is my humble perspective.” My willingness to explore nuance, to view the world with empathy, to try to help in the small ways that I can. To recognize that there is a lot that I don’t know, and to research and dig to fill some of those gaps. Or at least I hope that’s enough, because I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of the sort of certainty I observe and (sometimes) envy from others.
All of the best stories are very specific—and in their specificity, they can become universal. Setting out to write a universal story that rings true to everyone is a fool’s errand. As Kurt Vonnegut advises, “write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so I’ll keep writing for the people like me: the uncertain, the explorative, the curious. Those who are unflinchingly confident have plenty of content out there geared toward them, and I don’t want my posts to get pneumonia.