I smile because I have no idea what’s going on

When Ygritte says, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Jon should have replied, “I know.”

My default position in life is to assume I don’t know what I’m doing, jump off the deep end, and hope for the best. I mean except for that one epic failure when I tried to iron dry my attempt to scrub out a spill before my parents got home, only to discover the carpet was some kind of magical meltable material, it’s generally worked out okay. That isn’t about being humble it is just a reality that if you know everything it immediately blocks your ability to learn. Learning is my favorite thing, and on the flip side of that my biggest fear is losing the desire to learn.

For me, knowing just how much I don’t know is more valuable than what I know. It’s like standing in the ocean or a fast-running body of water, you immediately understand how small and fragile you are. There will always be more of the former than the latter. At the core of knowledge, it’s also subject to change.

A great friend and somewhat informal mentor in my life was a wonderful man who has studied martial arts almost his entire life. He would give his students a phrase that would describe their style. I remember him telling me he wanted to give me a phrase but he would need to think about it. One day I was at the school training and he exclaimed, “I have it!”. He went on to tell me what it was in Mandarin and then explained what it meant in English. The English description was that I was like a rock in the middle of deep fast-flowing water. I was so rooted that I was immovable and everything had to move around me.

I remember being quite proud of the fact that I was so well rooted and sad that I wasn’t part of the flow.

I have always wanted a great mentor at work. I have had exceptional bosses and amazing co-workers but not a formal mentor in my field for my entire almost 20-year career now. I somehow managed to get lucky enough to have 3 mentors simultaneously, all of them have the same level of seniority.

I was talking to one of them yesterday, and I was fascinated with his description of his progression to being more experienced. He described himself as a rock with sharp edges in a body of running water where the edges have been smoothed down over time. The sharp edges were ideals.

My other two mentors have similar outlooks. A type of leading with not judging, trying to understand, and pragmatism.

I fully expected one of my mentors to tell me I was doing everything wrong when I explained my choices that seemed less than idealistic on the surface, instead, he gave me a thumbs up and congratulated me on being pragmatic.

It’s very interesting to me that the sign of experience and maturity for these accomplished very senior developers is understanding what you don’t know, accepting less than a mythical perfection for practicality, and iterative improvement.

This is such a contrary idea to the working culture I’ve experienced most of my career, fake it until you make it, never admit you don’t know.

— The fug.