I am 50 and I have a college degree along with some graduate classes and some specialized training. Besides education and training, I've picked up knowledge by doing things on the sites of several jobs I've worked over the past 30 odd years. I know things.
Knowing things can be beneficial. That seems obvious. Nearly every rite of passage in this life is about knowing the right things to make it to the next level. That's what progressing through infancy and childhood is about. That's what progressing through school is about.
But while knowing can help in many ways, it can also harm.
When you learn your brain shortens a path and solidifies it. It makes a shortcut. It literally cuts off certain pathways so that the next time you encounter that situation (the learned scenario), it can navigate faster. Instead of exploring possibility, it defaults to the learned pathway. It's an evolutionary adaptation. You have the advantage of moving faster and using less energy to process information.
Imagine living in earlier human times when existence was all about basic survival needs (getting water, getting food, avoiding danger). Once you discovered the path to a particular water hole by wandering, the next time you could cut out the caloric expense of trial and error and beat a direct path. And once you knew how to get there, you could acquire even more advantages to help me survive. You might learn that predators tended to be at that waterhole at certain times of day, so you could avoid going there at those times. You might learn that waterhole tended to dry up in late summer so there would be no point using energy to go there in August ... You might even have to pull up stakes and move closer to a more bountiful source of water.
These are all good things to know for continued survival. But knowing those things comes with sacrifice.
In order to learn, you cut off the opportunities of other possible paths. You solidify your mental model of the world so that it is less pliable. You make acquiring other knowledge that lay in finer grains of reality less likely. Once you've learned to see the forest, its difficult to see details of trees that conflict with your concept of "forest."
This is especially true for creative work like writing and coding. I've received praise for pieces I've written. This led me to believe I knew how to write. I had writing expertise. I would dream up amazingly beautiful written pieces that I thought I should be able to produce being that I could conceive of them and that I also knew how to write.
For years, I produced very little creative writing of any quality, much less anything of great beauty. This is because I spent more time thinking about what I knew rather than actually writing. I fenced my creativity in with knowledge and expertise. I knew rather than practicing. When you know you are less open to learnings that may contradict what you know.
I've learned recently that it takes a great amount of bravery to become a beginner again. to let yourself feel vulnerable and naïve after you've spent a life time on learning and becoming an expert. But that is what it takes to do important and fulfilling work. To get past the resistance of the fences you've built. To take a different path to the water hole to see what you might discover even at great expense to your survival.
Writing is more about exploring paths to the water hole over and over again. It's not about finding one short way to get there.
Another way to look at it: writing is like continually being born, over and over again. While that may sound difficult ... being born is likely the hardest thing we do in this life, I much prefer it to the alternative: shutting down more and more until possibility is essentially dead.
"He not busy being born is busy dying." Bob Dylan.
In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein, discusses the dilemma of the expert, a role that has been described jokingly as "someone who knows more and more about less and less." Just like knowledge, expertise is good for many things. But bad for others. When facing a problem, an expert is likely to use a technique called "narrow search" to solve it. Because experts have deep knowledge in a narrow area, they search that narrow area to find solutions. Because of this they're very limited in the analogies they can form. And forming analogies is critical to getting new insights on difficult problems. Newbies outside the expert's field can find unique solutions to problems within that field at higher rates than the experts within the field. They haven't cut off all the possibility with expertise. They can see other routes to the water hole that experts dismissed long ago.
Can you become a novice in your specialty again? That's an important question. Can you enjoy the benefits of both broad mind and deep, narrow knowledge?