Gauging Oneself

July 12, 2012

How good are you – really? Are you a master of your craft, merely mediocre, or do you suck? How would you know? Asking other people tends to yield nothing more but polite indirection and flattery, or at the other end of the spectrum rudeness masquerading as honesty. Within your organization, there are annual reviews, but they only gauge your performance against set expectations, not how you stack up to your peers. Without true visibility into other organizations, much less how their employees perform, you’re left with how they describe their employees: Typically infallible and elite. In truth, there is no yardstick to assess your own abilities compared to others, so what are you to do? How do you know if you need to improve, if you’re perfectly adequate, or if you’re so good that you need no further improvement?

In sports, we have competitions and trophies; In academia, we have grades and degrees; In corporate America, we have titles and compensation – but titles are perfectly meaningless and compensation is based primarily on your ability to negotiate. When you get that promotion, is it truly reflective of where you stand on the world stage? Are you now in the same ranks as those with the same title at the top institutions on earth? No, probably not – at least not day one. If you claim that you are at the top institution on earth (and how you would claim that is beyond me), how do you know that there’s not someone more brilliant, hard working, and effective than you at an organization you’ve never heard of? Even if you are – irrefutably – the best at what your do, nothing says that you’ll stay there. People are constantly evolving and improving, and they won’t send you a memo when they’ve surpassed you.

There are those who are entirely self-motivated: They require no external validation to continue to improve. Even in the face of harsh criticism, they will continue on their chosen path no matter the cries of the naysayers. They are disciplined and determined, and are to be admired. They ignore external achievements, as they perceive that they will never be good enough. Winning competitions, good grades, and getting promoted mean nothing to them, because in the end it is only their self-assessment that carries any weight. If knowing how good you are compared to others is your motivation for improving, they you will never hit your full potential. The only true way to reach your peak is to look inwards, and be your own greatest critic. In the end, your abilities may or may not go recognized, but keep trying – the world needs more people like you.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.