As a pre-teen, I was often told I was special:
I mean special in a good way: talented, gifted, brilliant, “going places…”
Specifically, I was told by parents, teachers, camp counsellors and others that I had extraordinary talent artistically, verbally, intellectually and in my empathetic abilities.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I actually reached the age of 35 and realized something quite jarring.
I am a complete fucking moron.
But here’s why realizing this about myself has actually been a blessing in disguise…
1) You stop assuming things
There are so many things in life that we end up making mistakes about because we assume.
As the saying goes, assuming things makes an ass out of “u” and “me.”
How do I know? Painful, first-hand experience.
I’ve assumed things at work, in my personal life, and in many other ways that have embarrassed me, lost me money, and even lost me friends.
I’m guessing you want some of the dirty details here, so I won’t let you down:
I once worked at an auction during the summers when I was off from university. The job was hard and included hefting pianos, sofas and anything else that could be sold.
I liked my coworkers and there were some neat items for sale at times that got my attention.
The problem was the money: it was microscopic.
I was convinced my boss was just greedy or didn’t appreciate his employees. It turned out he was actually a massive gambling addict who was deep into debt and eventually lost the entire business, his primary residence, and had to move into a small trailer.
I sometimes wonder, as someone who previously struggled with gambling addiction on a lesser level, whether I could have gotten through to him or helped him stop if I hadn’t just assumed he was a miser.
Live and learn! I’m a moron.
2) You learn to enjoy life more
Life is tricky, even for the most fortunate among us.
As soon as your career starts taking off your love life hits the skids.
When you meet the person of your dreams you get terrible news about your physical health…
All too often this is the way life goes:
Unpredictable, tragic, hilarious, strange, full of ups and downs.
Sooner or later it’s necessary to sit back and embrace a philosophy that I’ve increasingly come to call my own:
I wonder where the hell this crazy ride is going to take me next.
Or, as the shaman Rudá Iandé calls it, “Laughing in the face of chaos.”
Life seems to curse you one moment and bless you the next. You find out a dead end was just the start of a new path or a huge opportunity was actually your worst nightmare come true.
You’re an idiot! Or at least it seems like it sometimes!
Why not sit back and embrace where this ride is going to take you?
3) You stop taking yourself so damn seriously
On a related note, realizing that you’re not always so brilliant helps you stop taking yourself so seriously.
There’s a reason people love comedians and individuals who know how to crack a joke at their own expense.
It’s because they recognize somebody who’s self-aware and knows their own faults but has also learned to see the funny side of it.
When you stop thinking you’re so smart, you learn to enjoy life more.
Even Albert Einstein did stupid things (especially in his personal life).
It’s important not to take ourselves too seriously and to learn to roll with the punches.
You may be right about many things, wrong about others or just plain confused about others.
But the point is to stop and smell the roses.
Even if you’re an idiot like my current boss Justin Brown, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life and still make a funny YouTube video.
Slow down, admit your mistakes, laugh at yourself a bit. Embrace the idiot life and see what changes for you.
4) You learn way more
One of the biggest reasons why thinking you’re a moron increases self-awareness is that it leaves you open to learning.
That voice inside yourself that says:
I already know everything about this subject, that person’s just (insert label), and so on, learns to shut up for a minute.
And when that voice shuts up you learn stuff!
A lot of stuff.
For example, you may even listen to another idiot and realize that their idiocy is actually just a mirror of your own.
Alternately, you may listen and find out that somebody is slightly less of an idiot than you, at least on a particular subject.
Being a journalist has helped me slowly discover this part of reality.
By letting experts and innovators talk about their field of expertise and really listening, I’ve learned far more than I would have just by talking.
5) You are more well-liked
Life’s not a popularity contest and there may be times that you have to stand out from the crowd and be willing to be disliked.
The ugly truth is almost always better than a beautiful lie.
Nonetheless, being well-liked isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it can be great!
There’s a reason that people envy those who are popular and well-liked: it’s because they sense that these people have tapped into something that they haven’t quite got.
Confidence, communication, for sure… But these people have also tapped into the power of being an idiot.
Popular people know that the best way to make friends and be well-liked is to listen more than you talk and to give people validation.
I’ve seen it myself with many of the most well-liked people I know:
They may love reggae and rock but somebody comes in going on about how much they love jazz and the popular person lights up.
“That’s so cool you love jazz. When did you first get into it?”
6) You’re more realistic
Among the other top reasons why thinking you’re a moron increases self-awareness is that you become more realistic.
What do I mean by that?
Well let’s be honest:
Even the most brilliant religious scholar would have to admit that life’s a bit of a mystery.
What is time, existence, death, birth?
We can have many insights, visions, religious revelations and spiritual paths.
But even despite this there is some part of life and our time here which will always be a mystery.
Not only is that OK, it’s kind of beautiful. And it also means that every one of us is sort of ultimately a massive idiot in a way.
You could be a world-renowned astrophysicist with a deep understanding of spatial dynamics and planetary orbits.
But you would still have to admit that reality itself is kind of a puzzle. You may be a genius, but you’re still kind of an idiot.
So am I. So are all of us.
Isn’t that kind of humbling?
Doesn’t it make you just a bit more realistic about the extent of your control on the world outside you?
Like I said:
My philosophy is increasingly pure curiosity about where this wild ride will take me.
7) You get pleasant surprises
When you embrace a lower estimation of your own intelligence you get pleasant surprises.
This is one of the best reasons why thinking you’re a moron increases self-awareness:
You sometimes realize you were correct or helpful about something you didn’t even realize.
When I say to embrace being an idiot I do not at all mean to embrace being useless, apathetic or actively stupid.
What I mean is to embrace the idea that you just don’t know as much as you think you do…
To embrace the idea that life’s a bit of a magical mystery ride and that’s kind of cool…
To embrace the fact that you do your best and learn what you can, but you still remain open to learning more…
It’s important to be an idiot and to admit that you are.
This is especially true for students and those just starting out in life, but it’s also crucial for adults and those who have become set in their ways.
You may have always understood reality and life one way, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only valid point of view.
8) You have higher self-esteem
When you accept and enjoy the fact that you’re kind of a moron, you become more comfortable with yourself.
You realize that you don’t need to be a genius to be loved. You don’t need to know everything or be “cool” to be accepted and contribute to those around you.
As my therapist and I work on in one of our mantras:
“I don’t need to be somebody other than who I am to be loved.”
This is powerful.
Now don’t get me wrong:
Life is change, and us human beings are always changing. We are always improving, learning, failing, succeeding and shifting everything even our identity and conception of reality.
But realizing that you have value by being you, and not conditionally is intensely empowering.
When you feel that in your bones, nobody can ever take that away.
As such, you become self-aware of your own faults and limits but you also you become aware that this doesn’t make you less valuable.
Instead, it makes you:
- More realistic
- More appreciative of others
- More open to learning
- More prone to pleasant surprises
- More able to experience the mystery of life
The end result is that you feel much better about yourself because you stop needing to cling to labels or outer ideas of who you are.
Aware of being average
The idea that we’re special can be intoxicating.
I know that part of me still clings to it.
I’m a good writer (right, am I? Really? Are you sure?)
But the thing about thinking you’re special is that it ends up making you feel alone, not only in your gifts but also in your struggles.
I’m more depressed than anyone’s ever been…
I’ve had a worse heartbreak than it’s possible to recover from…
I’m dealing with mental health issues that are impossible for anyone else to grasp, therefore there’s no point in communicating with them.
All these kinds of inner realities push us into siloes where we’re special not only for our triumphs but also for our tragedies.
The problem is that we end up finding out that we were acting for an audience of one all too often, and when the trees get wheeled away we’re standing on a stage alone.
As the author John Steinbeck put it in his outstanding 1952 novel East of Eden:
“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? …Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.”
I’m an idiot … and I’m OK with that
I’m an idiot and I’m OK with that. In fact, I like knowing it.
Knowing I’m an idiot gives me the following powerful life hacks and realizations:
- I don’t know everything, and there’s lots more I can find out!
- I’m ready to change and learn and grow
- I appreciate others and what they bring to the table, even those I might think are crazy or wrong when I first meet them
- We’re all idiots and morons living in a universe that’s just about as crazy as you can imagine
- I’m ready to laugh in the face of chaos and make something out of life without needing to make myself the star and the perfect ideal of every moment
- I admit my mistakes, my oversights, my assumptions. I understand that I may be objectively right about one issue or situation while still being mistaken about others or about how it affects others.
Being an idiot is a power move.
Knowing you’re a moron gives you a huge self-esteem boost.
Don’t believe me? Just try it.