Every once in a while I come across a helpful hint, a business tip, or a piece of information or insight so brilliant that I know it’s going to change my life. Often, it’s something that seems so basic and obvious I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that I never thought about it before.

It happened again recently when I read about the four stages we have to go through when learning anything new.

“Ignorance is bliss” is a good description of the first stage, in which we’re totally clueless about a subject. We don’t even know what it is we don’t know, and we probably don’t care – especially when it’s something that doesn’t particularly interest us or relate to us. But once it does, everything changes. A health crisis, a job loss, the desire to write a novel or purchase one’s first computer or smartphone – these are just a few things that can trigger a need or desire to learn something new.

That’s when we enter the second stage, where, as the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. We learn the basics, we start gathering information, and then we often get overwhelmed by how much there still is to know and do, and by how woefully inadequate or unprepared we feel. We may be tempted to think, “What’s the point?” and retreat back into our comfort zone. This stage can be frustrating, painful, and scary, but it’s both necessary and temporary. If we keep going, rather than quitting or going back to whatever feels safe and familiar, we’ll eventually move on to the third stage.

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” This advice from Dr. Benjamin Spock to new parents is probably the best explanation of the third stage, when we don’t yet realize how much we have learned and how much we now know. We’ve acquired enough knowledge and experience to know what we’re doing, but we don’t yet feel qualified or capable – even though we really are.

The fourth stage doesn’t bring us expertise, it brings us the clarity and confidence to see that we already have it. We may not have all the answers or know everything there is to know about our subject – which no one ever does anyway – but we know enough to be effective, and to accomplish whatever it is we’ve set out to learn and to do. We know what we know, and we’re ready to use it.

It’s been eye-opening for me to look at everything this way, and to determine what stage I’m in in different projects and different areas of my life. Try it yourself, and you’ll probably discover – as I did – how reassuring and empowering it is to know that your fears and frustrations are perfectly normal, and that not only are you on the path to success, but in many cases you’re a lot closer than you realize. All you have to do is recognize the four stages, and keep moving through each of them.

And that’s something worth knowing!

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 28, 2015. ©Betty Liedtke, 2015

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