How to Overcome Your Fear of Learning in Public

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In this post, we cover:

  • Why learning in public is so intimidating
  • What to do when you don’t feel qualified to share what you’re learning
  • How to make sure you aren’t getting your facts wrong
  • Why sharing what you’re learning doesn’t lock you into an identity
  • How to overcome the resistance you feel to taking action

I had a coaching conversation about six months ago with a young woman who was learning about web design. 

She was excited about what she was learning — her face lit up when she talked about it — but she was having trouble talking about it publicly.

She recognized that having more of a social media presence around her work would be valuable, and that it would help elevate her reputation and help her build valuable relationships — both allies and potential clients.

But she still couldn’t get herself to share her work online. 

And that was what our conversation was about. She knew learning in public was valuable, and it didn’t take very much time to do. So why wasn’t she doing it?

She was running into the same problems I’ve seen countless other people run into — with the common denominator being that learning in public feels scary

In this article, we’re going to break down the common reasons why people find learning in public to be intimidating — and explain how to turn that fear into an exciting opportunity. 

Ready? Let’s dig in.

1. You don’t feel qualified to talk about the things you’re learning about

It’s easy to get excited when you learn something new.  Feeling qualified to share your learnings is much more challenging.

I’ve seen it time and time again — people obsessing about the things they’re learning, giddily telling their friends, but faltering when they sit down to write a blog or a social media post about it. 

It’s hard to feel qualified to talk about the things you’re learning when you’re not an expert. This imposter syndrome can be overwhelming, So many people know more than you do. You aren’t an expert — who are you to be sharing information about the things you’re learning?

Here’s the thing, though — you don’t have to be an expert to share the things you’re learning. The whole key to the term “learning in public” is the word “learning.” Being new to the topic at hand is part of the expectations. No one expects you to know everything.

Think about it this way: if you know more about this topic than you did yesterday, the version of you yesterday would’ve found what you’re sharing helpful. You have enough expertise to help anyone in that position — and that’s a valuable thing to share.

Really, you’re sharing to communicate with two groups of people:

  1. People who don’t yet know what you’re talking about, who will benefit from learning through you
  2. People who have knowledge in the area you’re discussing, who will notice that you’re learning about their area of interest.

Both of those types of people are valuable connections — and when you learn something new, the fact that you’ve learned is the only qualification you need to be talking about it!

2. You’re afraid you might get something wrong

You can picture it perfectly. You imagine yourself getting excited about something you just learned, typing it out in 280-character sections, sharing it on Twitter … and then the heat rising in your face as someone replies to your tweet with a correction.

The thought of getting something wrong is mortifying. It feels irresponsible. And if you’re new to a topic, the prospect of getting something wrong can be even more intimidating.

If I’m not an expert, how can I be sure I’m getting things right?

This is a legitimate question, but not to the point that it should keep you from sharing when you learn something new!

As children, we’re punished for getting things wrong in school, and we learn from a young age to be scared of making mistakes. But actually, making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process — and even though it’s preferable to avoid them, you shouldn’t let the fear of it cripple your sharing habit.

First off, to make you feel better: everybody makes mistakes, including the smartest people throughout history. Getting things wrong is part of the process, and it’s inevitable. Look at the history of scientific progress — it’s a long history of getting things wrong, realizing we have, and adjusting accordingly.

Stephen Hawking is a great example of this. He was one of the brilliant (and most oft-referenced) physicists of the twentieth century, but even he posited theories (with great certainty!) that have been debunked. And if he wasn’t too afraid of making mistakes to share his learning, who are you to be?

As the quote in Westworld says, “Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool: the mistake.”

But more importantly, as long as you’re doing your due diligence and communicating your questions, you can minimize your chances of making a mistake.

When you learn something new:

  1. Verify before you share
  2. Make sure you understand the terms and are using them appropriately
  3. Double check your sources 
  4. Openly communicate any open questions you have! 
Do what you can to make sense of the information well, but don’t be so nervous about getting things wrong that it impedes your ability to learn altogether.

3. You’re afraid to be judged for what you’re learning 

When you talk about things publicly, they become a part of your brand. It’s normal to be hesitant to talk about what you’re learning online.

I’m just exploring this topic. Am I really sure I want this to be a part of my identity?

This is a common thought process, but it’s also a fallacy. You’re not locked into any one identity just because you’re talking about it.

Look at David Perell as an example. He’s built his entire brand around learning new things. He talks about fresh topics all the time, but except for a few things that he’s talked about consistently, they’ve never become something that his brand is tied to.

Unless you’re talking about something over and over again, your identity isn’t going to be tied to it.

Really the thing that’s becoming a part of your identity is the learning process itself. You’re building an identity as a perpetual learner.

That’s a valuable reputation to have, because the world loves learners. If you’re able to learn new things consistently, that means you’ll be able to add skills and abilities to your repertoire, which makes you a more appealing person to work with.

From a career perspective — in the realm of portfolio-building and reputation-building — the more you share your learning, the stronger a reputation you’ll build.

From a personal and a community-building perspective, the more things you talk about publicly, the more interesting people you’ll be able to meet — because people love having interesting conversations, learning new things, and connecting with other people who have shared interests.

You’re investing in your reputation as a learner — and if you pivot to talking about something else entirely in the future, your reputation will be strengthened by that as well. It’s the learning that’s your identity, not the topic.

4. You’re feeling resistance to taking action 

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about Resistance. He defines it as the feeling we get when we know we should be doing something, but it feels hard to actually do.

This force he calls Resistance is a thing we all experience. It’s the opposing force we feel when we think about checking tasks off the to-do-lists, moving towards our goals, or chasing our dreams.

Important activities cause more resistance than trivial ones. Writing a blog post on a topic you’re interested in is a high-resistance activity; watching Netflix is a low-resistance one.

Important activities are always hard because of the psychology involved. The more we feel that something is important, the more we desire to do that thing right. The more we want to get it right, the more pressure we feel. And the more pressure we feel, the harder it gets to actually do the thing in the first place.

So when you’re thinking about sharing what you’re learning in public, there are two strong forces at play — the force Pressfield named Resistance, and the psychological pressure you’re experiencing because you want to do this thing right.

This makes learning in public very challenging!

Really, though, you can flip this phenomenon in your favor in two different ways:

  1. Recognizing that the phenomenon of Resistance means you’re on the right track (the more important it is, the more Resistance you’ll feel!)
  2. Remind yourself that the goal isn’t to be perfect, and that your desire to share things perfectly does not outweigh your desire to share at all.

The next time you feel Resistance rearing its ugly head, or you feel intimidated by wanting to do things right, remind yourself that you’re feeling this way because the task at hand (learning in public!) is important, and it’s worth the time it takes to complete the task.

Plus, with both of these phenomena, the hardest part is getting started. Once you’ve started sharing your learning in public, the process of sharing in turn gets easier.

So go try these things the next time you learn something new, and see how it feels! And if you’d like us to see (because we’d love to see), tag us when you do.

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