November 20, 2013

What You Don't Know

One of the biggest signs of my maturity is being able to admit what I don't know.

I'm constantly peeved when I ask someone a question, and they guess at the answer. When I hear responses like "Well, I would think that..." "I'm pretty sure that..." and "It's definitely got to be...", more often than not, I rudely interrupt them and say, "But you don't know."

More often than not, they continue to try to speculate.

I can guess at an answer better than anybody else. If I'm asking you, it's because I want the actual answer. Not something that might be the answer.

There's no shame in admitting what you don't know. But most people don't like to hear that. When someone asks me a question, I think about it, and if I don't know the answer (which, hey, sometimes happens), I might say something like, "You know what? I don't know" or "I don't know, but I'll find out" or "I should know, but I don't" or better yet, "I don't know, let's look it up."

But these circumstances usually relate to facts, trivia, tidbits of information - names, dates, times, weather forecasts, hours of operation, driving directions, etc. - that can easily be verified by some public information resource - a book, library archives, the internet, some human expert. It's not always about how much you know, but whether you know who to ask.

It's different when it's about how to do something. And if you want to move ahead in this world, sometimes you've got to do things you don't know how to do. You either learn it quickly in advance, improvise your way through it, or learn it on the job. If you don't already know how to rollerskate (which of course you do), you've got to figure it out pretty quickly once you strap those wheels on your feet.

A few months ago, during a week I was feeling particularly underemployed, I accepted a job offer to be a production assistant on a guerilla-style commercial shoot, during which I'd be assisting the director, DP, and two actors, doing whatever was needed from fetching coffee, marking marks, and slating the scenes to fixing hair/makeup/costumes, recording sound, and even holding the camera way above my head while steadying my footing on the Venice beach with a hoodie draped over my head so I could see the display screen, while the director, DP and actors were all on screen.

I knew that I was up for anything and everything that day, but I didn't really know what I was in for. "Just tell me what you want me to do," I told the director, who I consider a friend, but don't know that well. "Don't be shy about it, just tell me, because I won't necessarily automatically know."

I mean, I'm an actor. I'm used to being on the other side of the camera. I usually just listen for "Action!" and don't pay much attention to "Roll Sound" "Sound Rolling" and all of the other commands and confirmations that are called out on set by multiple crew members.

I'm just talent. What do I know?

I tried really hard, but I don't think I did a very good job. I had a good attitude and arrived on time and did everything I was asked to do, but maybe I could've picked up the rhythm of the set better, been more helpful, grown more arms to hold more pieces of equipment... Towards the end of the day, trying to juggle my production duties with getting camera-ready myself for my own small on-camera role, I found myself apologizing.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I just don't know how to do everything. I've never done this before."

And that's a hard thing to admit.

But even I have never done everything, and will never be able to do everything. There just isn't time.

But I'm grateful for the experience, and even for the money - which, for a 15 hour day, is usually what I make in one hour for my dayjob as a marketing consultant.

I think I did just fine as a PA, but of course I'm never satisfied with anything below excellence. But I didn't drop anything. I didn't break anything. My actors got sunburned but so did I.

And now, I know how to do one more thing.

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