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What to Do When You’re Not as Good as You Think You Are

It’s one thing to know you’re not good at something; it’s another to think you’re good at something and then realize you’re not


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Brooke Harrison

4 months ago | 6 min read
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The only way to go is up

It’s one thing to know you’re not good at something; it’s another to think you’re good at something and then realize you’re not.

It stings a little.

Why? Well, because it’s usually someone else who tells you so. Your mom, your dad, a friend, a coworker, your boss.

Think, for a second, what this is like when you spot it in other people… I can almost guarantee you’ve had a friend who thinks they’re better at something than they actually are. Let’s use the classic karaoke example.

There’s always that one guy in the group who thinks it’s about showcasing his singing chops. Like, he thinks he’s really good. And you’re embarrassed for him.

It’s not always a display of arrogance. Even in our karaoke example, your friend may not be trying to show off. He simply thinks he’s a decent singer. (And he’s not.)

It happened to me in my first job after college. In my first few months on the job, I did really well. My supervisors were happy with my work and I felt excited to take on more responsibility.

As much as I’d assumed I could handle the workload, I wasn’t equipped to keep up with my email inbox or the multiple client projects I was juggling at the same time.

I faced setbacks when there were miscommunications with the team. I missed deadlines. Client emails were buried in my inbox and I’d overlook things or forget to respond.

How and why was this happening? I’d been a straight-A student in school. I’d never been criticized for disorganization or poor management skills in my life.

I think this is when it happens for a lot of us, because we don’t know what to expect yet. Our only frame of reference is university, and post-grad “adult life” is a different ball game. There’s nobody telling you what to do, or how to do it.

You’re not “graded” for assignments; in the working world it’s “pass” or “fail.” And your boss won’t pull any punches.

For the most part, it’s an exciting time. We experience culture shock, but it won’t last forever. It does, however, expose areas for growth that we may not have recognized before.

When that moment of realization hits you, what do you do?

Well, you can wallow in frustration and self-pity for a while. (Been there.) It didn’t get me anywhere.

Or… you can acknowledge and accept the weakness, and continue to move forward. Here’s how:

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Take a breath. So there’s a disconnect between your perception and reality; it’s not the end of the world.

When I received constructive criticism at work, I eventually realized nobody expected me to be perfect. As a “junior” account manager, my lack of experience was literally reflected in my job title. You’ve got to earn those stripes.

Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. You won’t be the “star student” at everything in life, but that’s only natural. When you have an attitude of humility, and a willingness to learn, you’ll avoid the embarrassment and disappointment that accompanies constructive criticism or feedback.

Change your perspective — you have an opportunity for growth

Just because you’re not where you want to be now doesn’t mean you can’t get there. You have room for growth — that’s exciting!

The opposite of “growth” is stagnation and complacency. Do you want these terms to define you? If you want to go places in life — even if you’re already “good” at something — you’ve got to learn and grow. 

The goal is “continuous improvement,” or, as James Clear suggests, focusing on getting 1% better every day.

“If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” ~ James Clear

If you’re not as good at something as you thought you were — as you want to be — do something about it.

Create a road map for improvement

James Clear’s idea of continuous improvement is “a dedication to making small changes and improvements every day.” And before you can do that, you need to know what that looks like… you need to know how to improve.

Think about where you want to be, and how you’ll get there. Identify the action steps you’ll need to take to get from Point A to Point B.

Let’s say you want to get better at soccer, or playing guitar. It’s all about practice, right? But “practice” is an overwhelmingly vague concept. You’ve got to break it down and work on developing specific skills. For example, maybe you need to memorize scales or chords.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to identify those steps. I wanted to be a better project manager — but how would I go about that? I knew I needed to be better organized to meet project deadlines.

In my case, I was struggling to keep up with my inbox and our task management system. Here are a few examples of the action steps I took to improve my project management skills:

  • I began “working backwards” to meet deadlines. I’d work backwards from the final delivery date to determine how much time we had for each phase of the project (research, development, review). I marked these dates on my Outlook calendar.
  • I created “tasks” in Outlook, which essentially served as reminders. I set reminders for responding to emails, or following up with clients or team members.
  • I started “time blocking” in my Outlook calendar. At the end of each work day, I’d make a quick hit list of priority items I’d need to accomplish the next day, and then schedule them on my calendar. This helped because I could visualize my available time each day, especially on days I had multiple meetings.
  • A coworker helped me organize my dashboard in our task management system (Wrike) so I could see all projects for a particular client at a glance.

Your road map for improvement will be highly personal, depending on how you need to grow. Here are a few other questions to ask yourself: Could you take an online course or workshop? Could you pursue a certification to help you become better qualified? Do you need to put systems of accountability in place?

Find an accountability partner or mentor

You can’t go it alone, and why would you want to? If you’re trying to improve in a particular area, look to the people who are more experienced than you. Be willing to ask for help.

You need someone to give you honest feedback. (It’s your own warped perspective of yourself and your skills that got you here in the first place.)

Chances are, you know now that you need to improve because someone told you so. Don’t cringe away from this honesty — lean into it. Be thankful they’ve opened your eyes.

This person could be a resource for you. They may be a relative, a teacher, a supervisor, a coworker — whoever it is, share your game plan so they can hold you accountable.

Own it

Whatever you do, don’t let your pride impede your progress. You may be thinking, “sure, all this is great, I can take these steps but keep it to myself… no need for others to know that I’m working on this skill, or trying to get ahead…”

No. Just… no.

When I realized I wasn’t as good at my job as I thought I’d be, my pride took a big hit. For a while, it felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore.

And maybe that sounds dramatic, but for most of my life, I’d been the organized, motivated, “straight-A” kid with the disciplined work ethic. If I wasn’t those things, who was I?

For a person who despises social labeling… I’d labeled myself.

Where do you find your identity? Let me say this — we are all more than one thing. And there is no need to place such a heavy emphasis on these arbitrary labels. I’m “organized.” What does this mean, really?

I can be organized in some areas of my life and not in others. And the pressure I felt at work was unreasonable; one or two missed deadlines did not make me a “failure” of a project manager.

Ok, so maybe you’ve got some things to work on. So does everyone else.

Takeaway

At the end of the day, we need to realize that we’re never as good as we think we are. There’s always room for improvement. Always.

And there will always be people who are better than you — smarter, better connected, more experienced. And you know what? There’s somebody out there even better than them.

It’s not about being “good” at something. You just want to be “better.” Here’s the thing: if your goal is to get 1% better every day, you’ll never be bored another day in your life. What are you waiting for?!

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