Me on Frog Rock. Photo credit: Lynna Foster

For a long time, I prided myself on having an opinion on everything. I realize now that this was an extension of my pervasive insecurity and lack of confidence. I discovered quite early in life that having an opinion and expressing it was a way to create an identity — and a way to muster validation and attention.

In my 20s and 30s, a significant portion of being a know-it-all was a survival strategy — truly faking it until making it. And despite my low conscious awareness that I was kind of a bullshitter, I used my abilities of recall, retention and expression to build a career and create some semblance of adulthood. Ironically, the quest to have people think I was smart and worthy of attention led to imposter syndrome. This is why I now believe that the best antidote to imposter syndrome is to not be an imposter.

As with most things, maturity has brought into sharp perspective the foolishness of being a know-it-all. Life will humble you. I remember one of the first times I confessed this openly. In what was one of many skirmishes with Caden when he was in his early teens, I blurted out “I think you are under the mistaken impression that I know what I’m doing. I do not know how to parent you”.

Mentors will humble you as well. One of my first mentors was a wise and kind business leader named Ed Engel. He once told me, “Justin, you are way too eager to show people how smart you are.” Other mentors like Ron Price, Dave Waldo, Larry Anderson, Jim Hollingsworth gently but persistently broke down my desperate arrogance.

Here is where I am at today …

I try to only speak about that which I have directly experienced or been a witness to. This includes both things I could experience but haven’t and things I cannot directly experience.

The list of experiences that I will never be able to speak directly to is quite long. I don’t know what it’s like to …

Be a woman or a mother.

Be a person of color.

Be an LGBTQ person.

Grow up in the inner city.

Be destitute or homeless.

Overcome a major illness.

Be an immigrant.

Battle addiction.

Face combat.

Be placed in a leadership position that requires life and death situations.

Have extensive formal training or credentialed expertise.

To speak to any of these as if from a place of first-hand knowledge is high arrogance. At a minimum, it is a kind of armchair quarterbacking but mostly it comes across as privileged ignorance. If you have not experienced something, everything you think you know about the topic is a thin and unproven theory.

Two things come out of this …

  1. I ask a lot of questions to people that have first-hand experience that I have not or can not have. This how I have learned that every woman I know has been sexually harassed in some form. And every person of color I know has experienced racism — and been harassed or profiled by cops.
  2. I will challenge those who share their opinions about what they have not or cannot experience. Most recently, it has been the criticism of governors for the way they’ve handled COVID. My question to the Monday morning critics: “What would you have done if you were in their shoes?”

There are a number of issues that I do feel confident in expressing my opinions and views on. And if you know me personally or follow me on social media, you will know that I’m not shy about expressing these things.

Being a man, a life partner, a brother, a son, a father, a friend.

Political issues — especially the death of the American conservative movement and the foolishness of basing your life on ideology.

Spirituality and religion — especially related to being a Christian.

Creativity, writing, poetry, speaking.

Being an entrepreneur, business partner, branding coach.

Rural/ag life.

Overcoming a troubled childhood and lack of formal education.

Dealing with depression and anxiety.

Battling insecurity with my body and appearance, my worth, my value.

Passions: Texas, music, football, reading, history, politics and many others.

And very soon … I will be able to speak about the experience of being a grandfather.

Most of all, I can tell you my story. I can tell you of my own journey of self-discovery. I can tell you about the arc of life. I can tell you that the mission is in the suffering. That being a victim is a waste of a life. That love is real. That for me, God is real.

My life has been enriched by these experiences. And it has been even more enriched by a vast diversity of friends who have told me their stories.

What is your story?

What have you experienced that I have not or can not?

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