My Fear of Being Wrong

Today at work one of my team members asked me to check some calculations that he had done. This guy is probably 50, has been working in this industry for a couple of decades, and my firs thought was “I haven’t had to do engineering calculations in two years.”

He sent me his work, I looked over EVERYTHING cause at first I wasn’t totally clear what he was calculating (which made me miss the professors that made us outline a bunch of stuff before our calculation). All in all the math seemed sound, there was one thing that was bothering me. He was trying to figure out the max load before failure. He was using a material’s yield, but I had a feeling that he needed to be looking at the sheer stress because of the type of failure we were seeing.

Did I say anything?

No.

Why?

Because I’m dumb. Because the yield he had listed wasn’t specified. Because I wasn’t sure that he should have actually been looking at the sheer stresses. Because when it comes to something I’m not sure about, I’d rather pipe down than make a mistake.

And that’s not good.

I could have learned something today if I had brought this up. Maybe I will get over myself and do it tomorrow when I come in. At the very least, I could have shown that I actually have a functioning and curious mind. Instead I deferred to telling him he was right (which I still think he might be).

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to attend a school that offered programming as an elective. I signed up for the first programming class which taught in C and really really liked it. The teacher really liked that I liked it and showed some talent for it.

The next level programming class offered the following semester was in Java. I couldn’t for the life of me wrap my head around object-based programming. I dropped the class. I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher be as mad at me as that teacher was. And his anger stemmed from his disappointment in me. He was the first teacher to kind of treat me as an adult when he told me that if only I hadn’t been so scared of asking questions I might still be in there enjoying myself. It was the first time a teacher criticized me in a way that I respected and therefore in a way that kind of hurt.

At the time, externally, I just laughed it off and enjoyed my java free life. I had no intention of studying programming anyway, so what was the point? I knew I was going for mechanical engineering (did I mention I’m an idiot?). Internally, though, I think I was a little scared that a person that knew me in such a minimal context (this wasn’t a teacher I would say I was super close to) could call me out on something so accurately.

Now, I’ve really enjoyed the little bit of programming that I have done and I wonder what would have been. But that’s useless, right? What’s important is seeing the lesson in this. I need to start being comfortable with asking questions. I need to start understanding that not knowing something doesn’t show weakness. I need to start internalizing that admitting that I don’t know something is actually something very strong and wise. And I need to face the fact that I might be right more often than I think.

Which brings me to a whole other paradox. For the most part, I’m extremely confident in my intelligence. Probably over-confident in certain areas and with certain people (hi mom). And yet, within me there is a part that is so incredibly unsure of herself and ironically, in the stuff I’ve been “trained” in the longest. I wonder why that is. I mean I have a Master of Science in mechanical engineering, but the second I was asked to do a calculation outside the classroom I kind of froze. Whenever my dad asks me a technical question related to mechanical engineering, I get kind of annoyed and scoff it off.

Any insights?

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