Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12, NASB)
I had spent hours throughout the previous week scouring every inch of the city on Google Maps within every direction of the house. I knew at which CVS we would pick up our prescriptions. I knew where we would do our banking. I found three gluten-free pizza joints. I found the route I’d take to work and the route we’d take to various churches we plan to explore. I found the Target, the Walmart, the nearest Chick Fil-A, and the distance to the closest Half Price Books (28 minutes).
So on that blustery Friday morning, when we got into the car to go to the home inspection and my wife asked, “Do you need me to set the GPS?” I naturally responded with, “No. I know where I’m going.”
Well, if you haven’t guessed the end of the story yet at this point, I clearly did not know where I was going. I missed my exit, ended up getting the GPS out after all, and we were fifteen minutes late.
Overconfidence. It never fails…
Still a Clueless Turkey
Two years ago, I wrote a book (you can download the PDF for free here) in which half of the theme dealt with overconfidence. I called it “challenging your beliefs,” but really it’s just about checking your ego and realizing that you don’t know as much as you might imagine you do. And, of course, when I say “you,” I really mean, “me.” More and more, as time goes by, I’m finding myself saying, “Physician, heal thyself.”
In my book, I discussed “the turkey problem,” which I borrowed from Nassim Taleb (who borrowed it from Bertrand Russell, who I presume borrowed it from some nameless farmer). In this story, the turkey goes out for his feeding every single day believing that the farmer is treating him well–lavishing him with luxury and indulging him to his heart’s content. Then, one day, the turkey goes out for his feeding and the farmer has, not food, but an ax. Without having an idea of what was coming, the turkey meets his demise.
I am the turkey.
The more I seem to think I have it all together in life, the more susceptible it seems I am to watching it all fall apart. Still, after I’ve preached the “take heed lest ye fall” sermon to myself over and over again, I find myself continually blinded to my own inadequacies. I see this in every aspect of my life.
- I see it in my marriage. I think I’m right about something and my wife is wrong, so I react smugly to her disagreement with me.
- I see it in my faith. I think I have such greater spiritual discernment than the person with whom I’m debating a particular doctrine, so I’m quick to point out to them why they’re wrong.
- I see it in my political views. I think “the other side” is being duped by its twisted ideology while I, of course, am seeing clearly and thinking objectively.
- I see it in my work. I think I know the answer to a particular problem and start pushing my solution, rather than continuing to seek the solution that will actually solve the problem.
If I’m honest with myself, I worry sometimes that this great quest I have for learning is just one big charade–like I want to portray myself as this humble seeker of knowledge when I’m really just wanting people to say, “Wow, look how great that guy is!” I recently finished reading a thousand books, and I claimed to take on the project because I wanted to “broaden my interests” and “challenge my beliefs.” But, I wonder: did I really read a thousand books in order to expand my learning, or did I just do it so I could hold the knowledge over people’s heads and reaffirm to myself how smart I already I am?
Facing the Truth
The GPS incident with my wife was a bit of an awakening. I have not achieved enlightenment. I am still a work-in-progress. I still need to stay curious.
I am still a turkey, and I still run the risk of losing everything if I don’t pay attention to the silly pride that is always rising within me.
The truth is that I know so very little and have so much to learn.
The truth is that I will never achieve a level of knowledge or insight that enables me to stop listening to the advice of others.
The truth is that I need help.
The truth is that I’m vulnerable.
The truth is that I have no idea where I’m going.
The truth is that I need that GPS.
But, unfortunately, the truth is also that there is this dark part of me that doesn’t believe any of this. There is a smug little monster inside of me always trying to claw its way to the surface to take over my demeanor and reveal all of this supposed humility as pretense.
So, if you really want to help me, please point out that monster when you see it.
Don’t pat me on the back when I flaunt what little knowledge I have; call me out on the charade.
If I tell you I know where I’m going, the best thing you can do for me (and for yourself) is to quietly get out that GPS and set it for our destination.
We both know that I still need it.