Somewhere along the way, if you were ever considered a bookworm, or a smart kid, or your heart purred when you got a gold paper star, you have probably had a rude awakening. In your private world your collection of cool things to know was ok; but in the social world of adolescence, knowing a lot wasn’t necessarily considered an asset. Often, it complicated things. Our self images have long since formed around a paradox: 1) Be yourself. 2) Who will ever love you, smarty pants? Even now, what makes being a know-it-all a term of derision that makes us cringe?
Misperception #1: Speaking with confidence sounds arrogant or self-important (especially if you are female). This assessment implies that knowing a lot and sharing it with others, is just shameless self promotion, seeking undeserved recognition. People do not have to value what you know, but this is a rationale for resenting you for knowing it (unless you know how to fix their computer). The quick fix for resentment, if you buy this misperception and want friends: self deprecation. Sometimes, it’s funny. Sometimes it just hurts. Better: Humility. Insight is for sharing. Show others you respect what they know. Expect the same in return.
Misperception #2: Letting your knowledge show involves showing other people up. If you speak with knowledge, listeners may feel competitive. Our culture holds dearly the view that competitiveness and fairness coexist, at least in the Olympics and the courtroom; but social competition seems to quickly turn manipulative and mean. Quick fix, to belong: jettison the intellectual part of yourself. Young women especially, have a long and dangerous history of dumbing-down hoping to fit in, to be more pleasing to others. Better: Remember who you are, and value it regardless. Resist the temptation to trash your own wisdom, hoping to offer false comfort to others who feel competitive and disappointed in themselves. Instead, encourage them. We all have hidden gifts.
Misperception #3: People who know a lot are boring or passionless. OK, I had an old boyfriend who used to misjudge the interest of others in his dissertation research. Self-absorption gets in the way of friendship. But that is true for all of us. The quick desperate fix, to avoid being mistaken for a bot: 1) avoid the risks of friendship, and hibernate, or 2) choose passion and forget your heart’s desire for knowing things. Better: Speak what you know, speak from your heart, but make sure you listen well too, because it conveys respect. We must all choose our speaking moments wisely.
The good news: there is no such thing as knowing too much, but there is a risk of wasting what we fear to share.
The other good news: in the internet era, nobody can possibly think they know it all. In the time you think that thought, there is more. Breathtakingly more.