“Dude, there’s no way I can write an article on Vue”, a friend once said. “What do you mean... why not?” “Cause I’d get crushed by all the industry folks out there”, he feared. “Like who?”, I wondered. “You know, like the Wes Boses or the Sarah Drasners of the world”, he said. “No one’s gonna crush your article”, I laughed, “... you should totally write about Vue!”
Conversations like this happen a lot these days. It seems like at least once a week, I’ll run into another colleague with a great lesson to share, but for some reason, they just can’t find a way to write their story.
From what I can tell, it’s not the act of writing that prevents people from sharing. These people have formal educations and years of experience in their respective fields; if you ask me, they’re well-established in their crafts. Whether they’re developers, researchers, designers or managers, I believe they all have something worth sharing with the broader community.
So what’s stopping them?
It’s interesting to consider where these internal blockers stem from. A part of it feels like humility and you'll often hear something like, "Who am I to teach others?".
Another part feels like an example of imposter syndrome. It's not uncommon to feel like we’re not in a position to teach until we’ve mastered the entire domain.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past few months—why are people so reluctant to share and teach what they know?
And from what I can tell, there are two key factors that contribute to their reluctance.
“I’m not an expert”
I understand what this is like—in the past, I’ve also felt like I wasn’t enough of an “expert” to speak on certain topics, especially those of a technical nature.
How can I teach Apollo GraphQL when I just learned the basics a month ago?
Still, learning is a journey, and it has to start somewhere. Think about the last time you picked up a new programming language. What was that learning journey like? Did you skip straight to the advanced topics or did you start by first becoming familiar with the essentials?
I once had lunch with a colleague and he was voicing his thoughts on how teams confuse agile with scrum. He also shared concepts from Basecamp’s Shape Up model of product development, which he thought highly of.
“You ever think about blogging on this stuff?”, I asked him. “I did—I put it on my personal site.” “I remember! The Shape Up one... but what about your agile ideas?” “Nah, I’m just right here”, he said, positioning his hand flat just inches above the table, “... some people are up here at the summit!”. He lifted his hand higher to illustrate the top of the mountain.
Sticking with the analogy, I tried to convince him that while he might be at mid-summit, there are those at the base of the mountain who still seek his guidance.
“We wanna know how you got here!”, I said, pointing to the middle of the imaginary mountain.
“My topic isn’t original”
Someone once asked me, “I’m struggling with writing this article because my topic isn’t original… how do you handle that?”.
To which I replied, “...well, Mark Cuban once said that bottled water isn’t proprietary, yet people repackage it and sell it every day... and they make millions”.
When I think about originality and how it relates to sharing what you know, I always refer to the bottled water idea as an example of how to free yourself from the constraints of wanting to be original.
The topic doesn't have to be original, your perspective already is.
Originality is established by being true to yourself and by using your own thoughts as you teach others—this is your repackaging. When you share stories of things you’ve learned, remember that your unique experience is what sets you apart from others.
The continuous teaching mindset
Throughout my career, the most effective teams that I’ve been on, all embraced a continuous learning culture. On these teams, we created a safe space for failing, improving skills, welcoming healthy feedback, and sharing what we know.
What drives a continuous learning environment is what I call a continuous teaching mindset. Having a continuous teaching mindset means that you’re comfortable with helping others learn, no matter how much of a novice or expert you are. In other words, at any level, you’re willing to help others learn and teach whatever you know.
Interestingly, we already use this mindset in everyday scenarios. Think about it.
Do you share restaurant recommendations to family and friends? When you come across a spilled drink on a tiled floor, do you warn others to watch their step? Have you ever given directions to a lost driver?
In each of these situations, you’re simply sharing information with others and hoping to have a positive influence on their understanding—you’re continuously teaching.
Let your knowledge go
You don’t have to be a known figure in the culinary industry to give restaurant recommendations to others. You also don’t have to be a safety and health regulations expert before warning someone about a hazardous spill on the floor. And there's no requirement stating that you need to be a professional cartographer to point someone in the right direction.
The good news is, you can share anything that you know, no matter what level you’re at, and you can start doing this today.
In my view, knowledge isn’t meant to come into our minds and hearts, just to benefit ourselves at the individual level. It’s naturally meant to move through us. Every single lesson that we learn is meant to be passed on to someone else. Once you accept this concept, you begin to understand how much you can offer to those around you.
Your students await
Your co-worker, your team, the broader community—they’ll all benefit by hearing your take on any particular topic. New-hires, junior developers, or younger generations that will one day follow your path—they’re all waiting to discover what you’ve learned so far so that they can apply it to their own journey.
As you continue to evolve and grow in your career, remember that you’ll always have an audience waiting to learn from you. (I’m in your audience as well). Remember the things you’ve learned, and find ways to share them out to the world. Remind yourself of the value you bring because there’s always something you can teach, especially with your unique perspective.
Ultimately, you are the book. With all that you bring to the table—your personal history, your knowledge, and your experiences—recognize the fact that you have stories and lessons waiting to be shared.
Let me know when you do. I’ll be waiting to read, and waiting to learn.
Note: please know that the views and opinions shared in this story are my own and do not reflect or represent my employer.