It was almost exactly three years ago that I created this blog, that I wrote my first post, high on the excitement of a new idea that would consume my mind and my time. It is a gross understatement to say that I've changed in those three years (change does not even begin to cover it). Even just since my last post, a little over a year ago, I am (or I feel like) a completely different person. (Evidently, my love for parentheticals remains.) So in this not-so-grand gesture of rebirth, let me tell you about the Dunning-Kruger effect.
If you're not familiar, this is what I'm referring to (image courtesy of my favorite blogger WaitButWhy):
Turns out the Dunning-Kruger effect is much more complicated than that, but for now let's take it at face value.
The Dunner-Kruger effect (which from now on I'm going to abbreviate D-K effect because, god, it takes forever to type out with my mediocre typing skills) is a psychological phenomenon that investigates a person's conviction and confidence in their decisions based on their level of knowledge. Let's take medicine as an example: as you start learning content in medical school, you get more and more confident with the knowledge you have gained and your ability to take care of patients and make the right decisions for their care (the child's hill). But then you start residency and figure out that what you spent the last four years learning does not even start to explain what it means to be a doctor and you start to question your knowledge and ability (the insecure canyon). From there, after you truly admit to what you don't know, it's a slow climb (up the grown up mountain) as you gain experience, continue gathering information, as you be a doctor, and regain conviction in your decisions.
The D-K effect seems to plague many-a internet commenters who have the utmost confidence in their (sometimes) misguided ways. They have done just enough internet sleuthing to feel like they have the knowledge of an expert, but not enough to understand that they've only grazed the surface of what's actually out there (until they start arguing with someone who is actually an expert and they realize they are way out of their depth). Common examples include: Reddit crusaders, WhatsApp scientists, and WebMD doctors.
The internet and the accessibility of information has certainly highlighted the impact of the D-K effect, and I've undoubtedly fallen trap to it more than I would consciously know.
I started to think about how the D-K effect affects me when a few of my friends stumbled on this blog (my old blog) a few weeks ago. I tried to sweep it under the rug, embarrassed with who I used to be and the unfounded confidence I had. What I used to write is not a fair estimation of the person I am today, and I didn't want something I'd written years ago to haunt my current self. In fact, until that point, I had ostensibly pretended this blog didn't exist. But with the whole world in quarantine because of the coronavirus, I started thinking about writing again, and about why I had effectively shunned this blog from my memory. And how my journey with this blog was essentially one big Dunning-Kruger effect experiment.
I was definitely a resident of the "child's hill" when I started writing for this blog. Almost everything I wrote was based on the idea that because I had been through a certain experience or had achieved a certain success I was qualified enough to give advice to others - to preach from the altar, so to speak. When I started my blog, I thought high school and college admissions were the most important parts of life and that I had cracked some code with my research on these topics, that I could give unsolicited advice as someone who had been through the same experiences. High school in general was a great big "child's hill" for me, where I had so much confidence, but didn't realize it was built on an incomplete foundation of knowledge. But with this confidence I started writing, spreading my opinions and experiences, with a half-polished writing style and misplaced humor. If I go back and read my old posts, I cringe. (You would too, believe me.)
It's fitting, however, that the existence of this blog almost certainly depended on my elongated stay at the top of that "child's hill." Without that conviction, I would never have started it, and it's unlikely I would ever have enough conviction (or time) to start a whole blog at a later point (except perhaps for now? more on this later). And as I write this, I feel it's important to give my old self at least some credit - I made something out of nothing with the force of just sheer will and time, and it did help high schoolers around New Jersey, and several were kind enough to email me to tell me how much my words helped and to ask for advice as they were going through the experiences I wrote about. I used my penchant for over-researching and over-preparedness and turned in into something I could put my mark on and use to help those that didn't have the resources or knowledge to do this research on their own. I'd like to think I made a positive impact on at least one person's educational trajectory.
But I put an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself back then, where I was writing for the "masses" and disseminating actual information that people could actionably use (or at least I hoped they would). Pressure to write a certain way, to do all this research, to meticulously choose how it was presented on this website. (I certainly had a lot of time then, it seems.) Still, my writing was actually... okay, my voice shined through every piece, and I was incredibly thorough in each post. But the fact that almost every post was geared towards providing advice made it strangely egotistical and self-absorbed. And I think that's part of the reason I stopped writing, along with the fact that I dropped into the "insecure canyon."
My first loss of confidence came after what I thought was a disastrous college admissions experience - I started to think I couldn't claim to be a credible source. And once college started, and once I started to get busy, I had less and less time to write, and more and more time to regret the things I used to write. I wanted to put distance between something I no longer believed represented me. As I met more people, explored more possible futures, got exposed to the diversity of "the real world" (albeit the rose-colored one that exists in the peculiar area between childhood and adulthood), I realized how little I knew about anything. I realized that high school was just the tip of the iceberg and there is much, much more life to be lived. I stopped writing, stopped advertising my blog (I used to live to see those analytics), started to question my future and my decisions and my confidence (your run-of-the-mill college crisis). I was making a steady plummet into "insecure canyon."
Starting to write again is my way of getting myself out of the "insecure canyon" and back on the path to "grown up mountain." I spent a whole night completely revamping what used to be a "student self-help" blog into a personal website, with this new blog attached. I'm at a point along the D-K axis where I am starting to regain enough confidence (and to understand that there is so much to be learned) and now feels like a perfect time to start writing again. I'm getting more confident in the decisions I've made for my career and my future, in my ability to lead and advise others, in my potential to grow. My moments of indecisiveness and "not having an answer to every question" are not as crippling as they once were. (And now I know that I don't quite have the knowledge to constantly advise others.) Now is the time to write about everything and about nothing and to write for myself. If I hadn't started a blog when I was at the top of that "child's hill," there's a solid chance I would have now (and here I am!).
The difficult part of the D-K effect is that even if you claim to be at the "grown up mountain" phase you can never be sure you're not just on the "child's hill" of another D-K effect in another part of your life, waiting for another big reality check. Which is why I hesitate to say I'm not constantly grinning in ignorance at the top of the hill, but I'd like to believe I've passed the lowest point and I can climb upwards from here with the occasional ups and downs that come with any climb.
And so now, with this "rebirth" of sorts, I want to set no limits, no boundaries. These will be short, long, silly, serious, poetic, narrative, whatever. I am not going to spend hours editing my posts, carefully planning out my thoughts, or feel bad for just writing about something I want to write about instead of something I think people want to hear. My humor might still be misplaced at times, I still might be "preach-y" at points, and undoubtedly I will look back on this very post in three years and visibly cringe, but I am much more comfortable with that prospect and with the optimistic outlook that I will continue to grow, and to grow into myself.
And so if you decide to peruse my writings below this point, I wish you luck and hope that you don't judge me too much - and that you remember the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Oh, and P.S., there's still one piece I'm super proud of, even though I wrote it way back when, I recommend you give it a whirl.
And as always, thanks for reading.