I remember in middle school, high school and even college, there’d always be a teacher who’d tell her students that there was no such thing as a stupid question. They’d say it confidently as a way to encourage students to ask questions without feeling anxious.
But I knew, even as a kid, that it wasn’t something that you could just believe in. The reality of it was that you’d be judged anyways if you asked the wrong question, by your peers or even the teacher herself. It might not come off as a full rejection, but perhaps a giggle, a frown, a slight shake of the head, or even a subtle sigh — these were signs we’d pick up on, consciously or subconsciously and begin shaping the fear of asking in our minds.
As it happens more and more often, we learn to be afraid of asking questions. For the sake of not feeling silly, stupid, or ignorant, we’d not ask and keep our questions to ourselves instead.
Whenever I went to a supermarket, I’d look around on my own first and assumed that, if I couldn’t find what I was looking for, the supermarket probably didn’t carry it. I could’ve asked, but didn’t.
Whenever I’d customize a drink or meal and noticed the receipt not fully reflecting my order, I’d just pretend nothing happened and hoped for the best. I also could’ve asked, but didn’t.
Whenever I needed to ask something of someone, no matter how menial, I’d hold off until the last possible moment until I felt there was a good opportunity in doing so. Again, I could’ve asked, but didn’t.
I decided that, rather than facing my fears, to convince myself to think things through and learn things on my own. To avoid having it feel like an excuse, I treated myself as harsh as I could. If I couldn’t find the answer, I’d tell myself that I was incompetent or lazy because I probably hadn’t tried hard enough. It didn’t help that I was heavily involved in startups either — it just further reinforced the excessive expectations I had set for myself when it came to self-learning.
It wasn’t until I started traveling that I felt more comfortable with asking questions.
Perhaps I didn’t really have a choice. In a country whose language I could barely speak a word of, asking questions was sometimes the determining factor as to where I’d be staying that night, what I’d be eating, the price I’d be paying and overall quality of life. It was either to keep hiding behind my fears and putting myself at risk unnecessarily or facing them to realize how unfounded those fears really are.
I’ve realized now how naive I’ve been all this time. Maybe it had been more than just the fear of asking, maybe it was my ego, or perhaps it was also a fear or rejection; regardless, it’s made me realize how many opportunities and time I’ve wasted for the greater part of my life. I don’t regret my past — I just look forward now knowing that I won’t make the same mistake anymore.
The fear of asking still comes up once in a while, but when it does, I ask myself — am I really going to let a fear that’s already wasted me so much time to once again hold me back, or am I going to face it knowing that by doing so I’ll have much more to gain? Fears are fears — we’ll always have them but it’s up to us to decide whether or not we’ll be controlled by them. If we don’t face our fears, we’ll never live any life except for the one dictated by our fears.
It’s okay to ask questions, even stupid questions. I do it all the time.
The fears we don’t face become our limits — Robin Sharma