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The Dunning-Kruger Effect (Why Wisdom Brings Doubt and Newbies are Overconfident)

I recently read a blog post over at Book Baby that gave me a fun little “ah-HAH!” moment of recognition. It’s about the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon. This theory explains behavior spanning all hobbies and professions (with the possible exception of parenting … that’s a state of being riddled with doubts. I rarely feel like I’m killing it in the ole’ parenting department, and most parents I know are right there with me.)

So what is the Dunning-Kruger Effect? It’s what happens when somebody has just enough knowledge to be dangerous. It’s a sophomore in the thick of earning a BA in Philosophy. Or a writer who just pounded out the first draft of their very first novel and thinks, “Aw yiss! It’s time to lay this precious gift of the written word on every agent I can find … they’ll be lining up to sign me!”

But that’s not the whole story. The DKE also explains why those with years of experience sometimes fall into crippling self-doubt.

Find some balance.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I’ve been both of these ends of the DKE spectrum. I’ve been … if not overconfident, then definitely an overoptimistic newbie writer. The high I felt (a long, loooong time ago) when I actually finished my first novel (which you’ll never see. Trust me. It’s for the best.) propelled me to believe that I could really do this thing! I could really be a novelist, and fulfill the dream I’d nurtured my whole life! And I was gonna be such a BADASS at it! All you other writers out there are joining me in a patronizing, painful smile and headshake. Aah, younger me. How much you still have to go through.

And I’ve been plunged to the depths of the Valley of Despair, where I felt like any word I put down–if it was a worthy word before I put my hands on it–decayed into so much meaningless and trite syllables.

But, you know … as with most things, the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle. I have enough experience to know I have so much more to learn. But, I have something else, too: the knowledge that I’ll spend the rest of my life learning it, and I won’t be done when I’ve expired. And I’m cool with it.

Check out the blog I referenced here. It’s a good read.

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