I am friends with exactly two people who make their living as social media influencers. One is a sorority sister who is a fashion blogger in Dallas, and one is a film and video game critic who runs a youtube channel with hundreds of thousands of followers. Mikey, the film critic, makes extended video essays that unpack all kinds of hidden layers and interpretations of popular entertainment (here’s his take on Knives Out if you’re curious). Mikey is not just a critic but an experienced creator of pop culture; he was the lead writer of a video game that sold 20 million copies.
And one of his mantras throughout all of his essays is,
“No one knows what they’re doing.”
He uses it playfully to acknowledge the reality that, for all the thought, intention, work, and talent that goes into making the movies, tv, and games we love, there are no real experts. You can’t make a game fun, you can’t guarantee a movie will work, and even the most experienced pros make rookie mistakes (and rookies sometimes strike gold).
As I mentioned, my husband is in the video game industry, and he and his friends reference Mikey’s mantra so much that they made a .gif of it that they drop into chats and emails. He works with programmers and designers at some of the biggest game studios in the country, studios that make games that everyone has heard of and which I can pretty much guarantee your 14-year-old nephew plays. And yet – at the highest levels of a very technical field – it’s still true:
No one knows what they’re doing.
In an interview about working in the White House, presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan says she experienced three phases. At first, you feel overwhelmed, lost, and like you should try to keep your head down so no one realizes you don’t belong. In the second, you start to feel established in your role, and in the third, when you know everything and are in the senior positions, you realize “how half-dumb or fully-dumb you all are and think to yourself, ‘Oh my God, we’re running the country?'”
Whoever you imagine as the experts, whatever organization or church you imagine as having it all figured out, is full of people who are just as clueless as you are. So if you feel like you’re making it up as you go along, rest assured you’re in good company. And if you’re lost but following an established playbook, remember that the person who wrote it didn’t know what they were doing either.
This is the best possible news because instead of shying away from our lack of knowledge or ineptitude, we can embrace it. It’s much easier to accept mantles of leadership, launch new ideas, and trust our instincts when we embrace the reality that there’s a good chance no one else knows any better, so why not try it our way?
We shouldn’t let incompetence stop us.
Those in most fields have to work to try to disguise their lack of certainty, knowledge, or experience. This projected competence leads to imposter syndrome because people wind up comparing their unsure internal reality with the confident external reality of others and then trying to mimic others’ external confidence, perpetuating the illusion like a hall of mirrors.
But here is where we who work in the Church and with a Christian worldview have a unique gift: we don’t have to pretend to know what we’re doing.
When we operate with the truth that God is with us, that the Holy Spirit is in our planning, our execution, and our lives, we don’t have to pretend to know what we’re doing because we can be confident that we are not the end of the story anyway. God can utilize our incompetence just as efficiently as our brilliance, so we need not fear failure.
We are invited, then, to experiment confidently, to embrace our uncertainty, and to never let incompetence slow us down as we pursue whatever it is we feel God is calling us to next. No one on this side of eternity knows what they’re doing. We can learn from each other and follow the advice of those ahead, but we must acknowledge that our sages are just people like us a few steps farther along a dark path, and our world changes so fast that they still might be wrong.
This week, embrace the permission the Holy Spirit gives you to step out into unknown territory with joy, and don’t let perceived incompetence slow you down. You worship a God who is competent enough for us both.