This isn’t as confusing as it sounds. A recent event with a major, mutual misunderstanding and some as yet unresolved tensions brought this expression to mind. I have been on both sides of this as in being in a situation where someone was convinced, “Well, you ought to know” directed at me, and me thinking the same about someone else. In the real world, however, I have also been in positions where I genuinely did not know certain things and I made mistakes due to that; some more serious than others.
Indeed, in continuing to reflect back on my Army days, I’ve mentioned my very first assignment was completely different from what it was supposed to be and it was a position to be held by a captain rather than the junior second lieutenant I was. At a minimum, it should have been a fairly senior first lieutenant. The rationale for why this occurred is not the subject of this post, however. The individual who placed me in this position was also a demanding boss and only cut me so much slack. On the other hand, I was told in one of my moments of great self-doubt that his actual assessment of me was, “Yeah, she makes mistakes, but never the same one twice,” and the senior guys around me, to include him, did step in if it looked like I was going to make a really serious error. Which leads me to the first main point.
The event that set me to thinking about this was a case where Person A had an agreement that Person B was going to perform a certain service. Person B happily agreed and in fact was in multiple meetings when the service was being discussed. Person B had done something similar for Person C. The difference was an additional administrative requirement was applicable to Person A that had not been the case for Person C. Person B was not aware of this. Person A was not aware Person B did not know of the requirement. The lack of understanding did not come to light in time to correct the problem. “Well, they should have known,” was stated on more than one occasion. It’s a logical sentiment, but in truth, it was simply a mutual, unfortunate lack of understanding. Both parties are now very aware of the specific question to ask in the future.
The second main point is if you are thrust into a position you don’t have the training/background for, be willing to seek out the information/guidance you need and be willing to do the extra work to become as knowledgeable as possible as quickly as possible. The flip side of the coin is if you decide to pursue such a position, don’t try to pretend you won’t make mistakes. Again, be honest about what you’ll have to do and learn from the mistakes you do make. Stretching beyond your comfort zone or taking on new challenges is okay; just be honest about what it is you’re doing.