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Ceasing All Forward Progress With Only Two Words

Solid skills and a good attitude are critical in this industry, admitting you don't know everything can improve both.

By M. Erik Matlock April 25, 2018

After repeatedly retraining a young apprentice on the same task, I discovered myself rapidly losing the grasp of whatever social skills I had retained.

We had been working together for weeks, yet he still refused to follow my simple directions. He insisted on doing a routine task in any way other than the one I had shown him.

Nearing the end of my rope, I attempted to redirect his efforts one last time. However, he interrupted my coaching with two words that aggravate me beyond reason…

“I know.”

As you might guess, I lost touch with my inner cherub and snapped.

“No. No you don’t. You don’t know anything. I hired you to assist me. I have tried to teach you the same job over and over since day one and you refuse to do it. We are done here. I am not wasting any more time with you.”

That was essentially the last conversation we had. He had some decent ideas about other ways to do things, but that was not the issue. The issue was that certain things had to be done in certain ways or we risked not getting paid. Another issue was that he absolutely refused to follow instructions. My biggest issue was the disrespect.

To back up a little. The guy was more than fifteen years my junior. Just a kid really. He was a friend of a friend who needed a job. I agreed to give him a shot. However, he was so arrogant and difficult, I just couldn’t take it after a few weeks.

For you younger guys, the ones volunteering or just coming into this industry, pay attention. The older and grayer among us generally have substantially more knowledge than someone just starting out. We have already learned quite a bit by trial and error. The ones who survived a full career will probably even admit that someone mentored them. Being older doesn’t always mean smarter or wiser, but it does mean we have had more time and opportunities to learn our lessons.

It usually means we have done more stupid stuff, too.

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be the dumb kid starting out. A little humility goes a long way. Nobody knows everything. The old guys are much more open to teaching you the tricks of the trade when you offer some respect. We want this industry to grow and progress forward. That requires fresh blood to jump in and learn the business. We won’t be around forever.

When you say to me, “I know,” you are telling me that you are a complete expert on this particular subject and cannot conceive of the need to obtain an additional information or training. You have essentially cut me off and told me to shut up. You have rejected whatever value I am attempting to add to your life or career.

More than one great engineer has told me that their early days involved a refusal to say “no” to any project or assignment. They jumped at any chance to learn or work with professional audio. They searched for mentors to help them make better decisions and create opportunities. They learned to keep their mouth closed, their ears open and their hands busy.

My suggestion for the new folks out there… please, eliminate the “I know” phrase from your vocabulary. Develop some humility and admit that you don’t know everything and allow someone to coach you. Quit resisting the folks who care enough to share their hard-earned wisdom and show them enough respect to listen. Save yourself many, many years of learning things the hard way.

After all, why would we bother trying to teach anything to anyone who already knows everything?


About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent a number of years as a church production staff member and Media Director, and as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.

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