No One Has Any Clue What They Are Doing

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I recently asked a friend who just finished his first year as an associate at a big VC firm what was the biggest thing he learned in his first year.

His answer:  “No one has any clue what they are doing.”

“What??”  I said to him.  “How is that possible?  You guys are printing money. Don’t you have some type of magic formula?”

“You’d be surprised,” he responded.  “Almost all the decisions are just kind of based on gut.”

When you’re on the outside looking in, it always seems like the people on the inside know what they are doing. They seem smart and confident and generally on top of their shit.  But when you’re on the inside, you know the truth:  Everyone is clueless.  Those who try to tell you otherwise are suffering from delusions of grandeur.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.  Last month, the tech media fell in love with a new startup touting them as the ‘next big thing’. Everyone from TechCrunch to NPR was writing about them as their user base grew from zero to millions overnight.

I was lucky enough to get an insider’s look at this hypergrowth, as their CEO and I are on the same founders’ email distribution list. While the CEO may have appeared cool as a cucumber to the public, in front of his peers, in the “circle of trust” that is our founders-only email list, he was scrambling like mad, asking a million questions a minute and seeking advice from anyone willing to offer help.

I’m sharing this with you not because he is a fraud that needs to be exposed, but rather because he is the norm.

The emperor has no clothes.  He never does.  Even the great CEOS — Mark Zuckerberg, Tony Hsieh, Elon Musk — as cool as they may appear on the outside,  I guarantee they’re just as scared and insecure as the other seven billion people with whom they share this planet.

And of course, this doesn’t just apply to tech founders and VCs.  It applies to everyone in the freaking universe.  (except for maybe this guy)

The moral of the story here is that if you ever think to yourself, I’m not smart enough or I’m not brave enough, or I’m not fill-in-the-blank-enough to do X, you are wrong.  No one doing X is any smarter or braver than you are.  The only thing that makes them different is that they have learned to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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9 thoughts on “No One Has Any Clue What They Are Doing

  1. chikaU says:

    Reblogged this on Chika's Blog and commented:
    The black box is exposed!

  2. Kim says:

    It’s both thrilling and disappointing to discover this truth — that no one knows what they’re doing. First, it’s a relief to think that each of us is stumbling along in the dark, figuring it out as we go. But then part of me wants to believe that they’ve got it all figured out, and if only I could, too, then I’d bet set! But it doesn’t really work that way.

    Spot on re: be comfortable being uncomfortable.

  3. Ali Mac says:

    Absolutely love this, and was just having a similar conversation with my family. Half the battle is just showing up! And no one has clear answers. You just have to START. Thanks for the motivation today….exactly what I needed!

  4. Ed Berger says:

    Yes, things almost always look messier from the inside than they do from the outside – but that doesn’t mean that “no one knows what they are doing”. A lot of people know precisely what they are doing, and do it with supreme confidence. For some – surely not all – of them, the confidence is justified, as demonstrated by repeated success over extended periods of time. Not every one is as smart or as competent as any one and cheerleading won’t make change that. Haven’t we grown out of trophies for showing up?

  5. Alex H says:

    The key is enabling yourself to work outside of your comfort zone. But don’t be fooled, the more knowledge, pertinent education (street-wise or scholarly), and ability to withstand criticism; the more likey you will be to succeed through the darkest and more difficult times.

  6. That is so true! Couldn’t Agree more!

  7. […] few months back I wrote a blog called “Nobody has a clue what they are doing.”  It was an decent post, but certainly nothing groundbreaking or novel. For the most part, […]

  8. […] No One Has Any Clue What They Are Doing by Ethan Austin […]

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