So, you’ve graduated from college and maybe even gone on to get a graduate degree. To top it all off, there’s so much information and knowledge at your fingertips because of the Internet.
Sounds like a great situation, right? After all, knowledge is power.
But actually, having too much education, knowledge and information available can hurt you. Here are six ways you might be too smart for your own good:
1. The Curse Of Trying To Figure It All Out Before Getting Started
I hate reading articles that proclaim, “We need to educate more people about diet and exercise!” Or, “We need to teach financial literacy to the people!”
The problem with this is that when I do a quick Google search, there’s no shortage of advice that comes up about healthy eating and exercise or financial literacy. If there’s so much information out there, why isn’t “education” solving the problems of obesity or debt?
Well, it’s because just knowing about something won’t change your behavior. In fact, having too much information on a subject can curse you into thinking you need to figure it all out before you get started.
I don’t know what the best diet or exercise program is, but I do know that doing some basic exercises consistently will yield better results than doing nothing at all. I also know that eating a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger and fries is a good choice, even if it’s not 100 percent certified organic romaine lettuce and farm-raised, antibiotic-free chicken.
What’s the best way to invest your money? You may find the “best” way some day, but putting aside $100 in a pickle jar each month is a pretty good start if you’re not doing anything else to save.
Sure, none of these examples are optimal. However, doing something is better than doing nothing but waiting until you have it all figured out; that day might never come.
This is the epidemic of “infobesity.” You consume and consume information, but paralysis by analysis leads you to never take any action.
2. Thinking All Education Has To Be Formal
The problem with going to school and then onto other forms of higher education is that it creates the perception all learning has to be formal. There’s still a stigma about self-teaching wherein, it doesn’t count unless you have a piece of paper from a higher institution of some sort.
There was a period of time when I was going to a local university library to learn some new programming skills. I worked through homework and exercises from a syllabus a friend gave to me. I got comfortable enough that I put these new programming skills on my résumé and landed an interview.
When the interviewer asked me how I learned these programming skills, I fidgeted uncomfortably and then lied and said I learned them in undergrad. Why did I lie? I had the feeling it wouldn’t be credible if I said I learned it on my own.
But, of the things that I do well right now, most started with learning in informal environments, then formal training later. There’s nothing wrong with learning something informally at first.
3. Overanalyzing The Wrong Things
I worked in a corporate environment for a few years. Despite the pitfalls of corporate America, I found the people who work in the industry to be smart. Believe it or not, this is actually an issue because when you throw a problem at a bunch of smart people, they’ll get busy trying to figure it out.
They’ll argue about details and lay out different options for possible solutions. Rarely will anyone step back and ask if he or she is working on the right problem. Years of schooling that provide assignments you’re expected to complete fuel this strange behavior.
If the pants don’t fit, it’s because they’re the wrong size; not because they’re the wrong fabric, not because they’re the wrong color and not because they have the wrong stitching.
It’s the size! Sometimes you have the biggest breakthroughs when you stop overanalyzing and step back to ask the questions nobody else is asking.
4. Knowledge Makes The Stakes Higher
One of my favorite books is Charles Bukowski’s autobiographical fiction, “Ham on Rye.” In it, he tells the story of how he won his ROTC Manual of Arms competition against someone who was a heavy favorite.
Bukowski won because he couldn’t care less about the end result, while the guy who was the heavy favorite was a nervous wreck because he was supposed to win and knew it.
Another hypothetical example is walking down a sidewalk. It seems easy, right? Now imagine walking on a sidewalk’s width bridge across the Grand Canyon that has no safety rails and you know you can fall 6,000 feet to your death. Suddenly, you tense up and the simple act of walking along a sidewalk becomes difficult.
Sometimes, you perform better when you have no knowledge of how big the stakes are.
5. Knowledge Of News And Current Events Creates Anxiety
In my young life, I’ve lived through a couple of financial collapses that were supposed to be the end of the US.
I’ve also lived through a bird flu epidemic, possible radiation contamination and numerous dangerous suspects on the loose, and I’ve traveled to parts of the world that are forbidden.
Heck, I can turn on New York’s local news any given night and hear about new burglaries and shootings. You’d think it’s a warzone there!
Most news reports are overblown. For example, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 3,000 people die each year from food poisoning in the US.
That may sound like a lot, but there are 300 million people in the US; there’s only a 0.00001 percent chance that something bad will happen to you. If you do the math on overblown-media fears, the odds of them impacting you are usually miniscule.
6. Comparison To Others Becomes Easier
Once you have certain knowledge, you become painfully aware of how much you actually don’t know. This may lead you to go back and try to figure things out more or get more formal education.
Even worse, you may start comparing yourself to people who know more than you do. Then, you may start thinking that you might not be qualified enough to do something.
I have this bad habit where I’ll say, “I’m not the best at this, and other people probably know more than I do, but…” I too often compare myself to others rather than focus on the value I can bring to a situation. A little humility is good, but sometimes, you just need to show confidence.
So information, knowledge and education are powerful and great to have, but they can also make you too smart for your own good. Sometimes, it’s best to just get out of your own way.
Photo credit: Limitless