When I was helping to host WordCamp Atlanta a few years ago, we had a “developer day” and asked users during registration to rate their WordPress development abilities as either “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, or “Expert”.
When I was reading through the registrations, two came up in a row that were both marked “Intermediate”, and I was perplexed.
- One was a friend of mine, call him Alex, that I consider to be an amazing developer. If I have a problem I can’t solve, he always can. He’s brilliant, yet called himself “intermediate”.
- The other was a woman I know that was relatively new to WordPress, call her Joan, but she was really starting to dig in. She also called herself “intermediate”.
In his case, Alex was recognizing something that Albert Einstein said years ago:
as our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it
He could do amazing work, but the depths of his knowledge helped him to see how much was beyond it.
In Joan’s case, she was suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where she doesn’t yet know what she doesn’t know and starts drifting toward illusory superiority. As Neil deGrasse Tyson would say, she had built a “perimeter of ignorance” and couldn’t see beyond her own knowledge. To be fair, she wasn’t billing herself as an “expert”, but also was clearly failing to look ahead.
If you’re always learning new things, you increasingly begin to recognize that the volume of information that you don’t know is also increasing. This is almost always a good thing, as it’ll keep you striving to learn more, but can also lead to a bit of imposter syndrome, where you feel the amount of information that you don’t know is so massive that you think you don’t really know anything. This is kind of where Alex ended up, and it can be a tough spot.
I’ve met a lot of folks over the years that were absolutely brilliant in their field, but shied away from sharing too much because they felt they weren’t smart enough. It’s a fine line between being confident (and always learning more) and just being cocky, but understanding both sides of this is a good way to sort out where you really belong in any channel.