Lessons learned from feeling stupid

For a period in my life, I spent a lot of time in close proximity with folks who generally left me feeling… stupid.

Maya Angelou once said that people don’t remember what you say or do but remember how you made them feel. As I think back to that time, I do remember many of the things that were said and done. But, I have incredibly vivid memories of how I felt.

The interesting thing about that time is that the more I felt stupid, the more likely I was to make stupid mistakes. And I did make more than a few. It was a self-perpetuating cycle.

I learned three lessons from those times.

First, I learnt to pay close attention to how I felt after I experienced people or things. There are times when some experiences don’t feel right. And, when it doesn’t, I ignore any and all attempts at logical thought and stay away. Feelings – especially those that originate in our gut – matter.

Second, I learnt to value people who appreciate what’s good about me over my flaws. Their feedback consistently focused on helping me improve my strengths while ensuring my flaws didn’t get in the way. It was generally constructive. In my experience, that is the most useful kind of feedback.

That is not to say critical people aren’t helpful or caring. In many cases, they might be one or both of those. That said, every once a while, these relationships just end up perpetuating a bully-victim cycle. In some cases, these critics inspire tremendous wealth/power/fame by virtue of ensuring we operate with a consistent sense of insecurity and a chip on our shoulder that never goes away.

That may be an acceptable trade-off for some. But, it isn’t for me.

Third, as a result of paying attention to feelings and valuing constructive, I have gravitated to environments where people I respect operate intensely to make a positive impact on the world – in the presence of safety and belonging.

That safety and belonging, in turn, inspires the kind of confidence that enables us to operate from a place of wholeness instead of our wounds. And, in places where people operate from wholeness, people leave feeling better about themselves than before more often than not.

They may (and likely will) often be faced with the realization that they have a lot to learn. They may not want to do so and might decide to leave.

But, they’ll never be made to feel consistently stupid.

And, that’s an outcome that matters a lot to me.