Why it’s Important to Start Learning What You Don’t Know

The Socratic Paradox is widely known, saying “I know that I know nothing.” It brings up a tricky approach to what we know, and for some, intelligence that we think we have. In a way, it can seem pessimistic; being sure that you don’t know even a drop in the world’s fountain of knowledge might make learning seem pointless and futile. On the other hand, it can be liberating.

There’s always an extreme position to any situation or, in other words, a stuck position that will either change with action or remain with inaction. People have applied this concept to everything, popularized with the idea of rock bottom. Once you’ve reached the lowest of lows, is there not anywhere to go but up?

The same remains true for the Socratic Paradox. Once you accept that you know nothing, are you not liberated to then learn everything?

Here, at Emory, we have been presented with an abundant field of opportunity. You can take an art history class while also taking physics, music theory in the same semester as advanced calculus, women’s studies alongside cancer biology, and any other possible combination. Obviously, as students here, we came with the impression of this liberal arts education. What I see more often than not, however, is our own self-entrapment into the idea of professional determinism.

Professional determinism is the rejection of all educational opportunity laid in front of us. It’s the idea that career trumps everything, especially liberal arts classes. People all around campus think in terms of future salary rather than content, positions attainable rather than interest and passion. Not only is this a disservice to the four years you’re given at this institution, but it’s an unfortunate snare in which we catch ourselves.

This time, more than ever, is the time to explore yourself and your interests. Concentrating on expected financial output rather than interests, passions, or personal achievement limits both your present opportunities and future possibilities.

There is plenty of research that shows that your major won’t necessarily align with your career because we all change. What we thought would make us money might, in fact, make us miserable. Only 27% of college graduates are working in a job that even relates to their major.

People who dedicate this time in the undergraduate experience to focus on specific industries like medicine, business, or law, are not guaranteed to achieve more than those who enter the industry post-undergrad with a major that’s completely unrelated.

I think, personally, above anything, we should be looking at education as a means to find our purpose. Purpose is what gives us life, what gives us the motivation to make it through every day. If you choose now to concentrate on a field you’re truly passionate about, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll give it the attention, energy, and enthusiasm that will manifest into success. Performance, in any realm, is what translates into success and work ethic and drive, above all, is what people are looking for.

I may know that I know nothing, but I understand that here, I am given the resources to learn anything. Taking each day as a new opportunity to expand and grow, I can start to fill in the information I am missing, discover what it is that propels me, and develop into the most successful version of myself later.

Take advantage of the academic vulnerability that comes with the academic experience, the only thing that can happen is learning.