Think you know what you’re good at? Think again

04.26.2018 | Jennifer Gehrt

Recently, I stumbled across an article in The New York Times that I thought would be helpful to those of us with a commitment to continuous improvement. The article is titled, “How to Spot and Overcome Your Hidden Weaknesses,” and focuses on how challenging it is for people to truly assess their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to skill and abilities.

Surprisingly, the less experienced people are at something, the greater the probability that they will overestimate their abilities. This is because when you are not skilled at something, you don’t see your shortcomings and mistakes.

Consider my endeavor to write a novel. I’m a novice at creative writing, and when I wrote my first chapter I thought it was good. However, my classmates at the Hugo House have had plenty of feedback for me. They’ve had suggestions around the balance between in-scene action and summarized information, thoughts about dialogue, and suggestions about how to increase the stakes for my protagonist – and these are just a few of the examples.

I’ve been working on my book for 18 months and the more I learn, the more I realize how hard the process can be. Apparently, this is not uncommon. The more skills and knowledge people develop, the more likely they are to underestimate their abilities and talent.

Worse yet, when you’re skilled at something, it is often easy to assume that others also are skilled at it too. For instance, maybe you’re an expert skier and find yourself skiing with a friend who is less experienced who you end up taking on a double-black diamond run. You’re not showing off, you’ve simply assumed your friend can do it as well. No problem, right?

Wrong. Not everyone shares the same skill level. Fortunately, in his article Tim Herrera points out that there are two steps we can take to obtain more accurate perceptions of our abilities.

Tim writes, “First, ask for feedback. It’s not easy, and it can sometimes be tough to hear, but outside input is crucial to shining a light on your blind spots.” In his article he includes a link for tips to getting and giving better feedback.

His second suggestion is to keep learning and building skills. The more experience you have doing something, the better you’ll be at assessing problem areas. For more on learning, I’d encourage you to read these posts about learning how to learn as well.

Learning How to Learn: The Chunking Puzzle
Master Your Mental Toolbox 2018

I found Tim’s article to be inspiring and helpful. I am going to continue to apply these best practices in both my professional and personal lives.


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