Deep down, we all want to know how good we are, really. But our ability to evaluate how good we are – at our work, at our relationships, at life in general – is unhappily not very good.
We’ve all heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which documents this problem. First publicized in 1999, it’s the fruit of the work of two psychologists – David Dunning and Justin Kruger – who showed that the worst performers often rate themselves among the best. That’s why almost 90% of automobile drivers, for example, consider their skills and abilities “above average.”
Follow-on research also indicates the highest performers, mistakenly thinking their extraordinary capabilities are far more commonplace than they really are, often rate themselves too low.
The simple conclusion is this: most people have wildly inaccurate ideas about how well – or poorly – they are progressing, and how they stack up against others.
But there is a way to find the answer to this important question.
This is fortunate, because accurately knowing the range and level of your capabilities has many distinct advantages. For example, truthful self-evaluation:
- Helps identify past learning and growth, and opens the door to more of this in the future.
- Brings a deeper, clearer understanding of yourself.
- Adds to your level of confidence.
- Let’s you feel more highly valued.
- Offers clues about your best options and most fruitful future directions.
- Leads to better awareness of other people and the world in general.
- Supports closer, more meaningful relationships.
What to Evaluate
In many ways, introspecting reveals each of us to be very onion-like, in that we have many layers of talents, skills, traits, and characteristics. That’s one reason the more you look at yourself, the more you find.
Because you’re complicated, there is probably no end to the items you can usefully evaluate about yourself. However, there are several areas of prime importance, including:
- Your capabilities and strengths: What comes easy to you? What have you mastered?
- Your accomplishments: What tasks, projects, and goals have you completed with satisfactory or even excellent results?
- Your enjoyments and pleasures: What activities bring you the most fun? In what circumstances does time seem to pass most quickly?
- Your reception by others: How do people treat you? What role(s) do they give you consent to play? What expectations do they seem to have of you?
How to Evaluate
Because you’re human, and therefore most likely a wildly-biased and inaccurate judge of your own capabilities, I’m not going to suggest you try to directly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses.
Instead, I’m going to suggest you tap into other sources, other people, to gain clues about how good you really are. These include:
Your accomplishments: This is a prime source of accurate information on the topic. After all, you either have or have not accomplished specific tasks, projects, and goals. And if you have, no one can ever delete that from your resume. It’s a permanent part of how good you really are.
I’m backed up by Billy Wilder, the iconic film director, who reportedly believed: “It’s not true that you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done; you’re as good as the best thing you’ve done.”
Start your self-evaluation by making a list of your top accomplishments. Add to it some or all of your additional accomplishments, even if they’re not individually worthy of special note. This is the beginning of your answer to the question we’re asking in this discussion.
Your trusted friends and relatives: These are people who have observed you for a long time, and who have undoubtedly formed their own careful, documented (although perhaps anecdotal) opinions about how good you really are. So ask them.
Recognize they will normally try to put a positive spin on what they tell you about yourself, and will often focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. This, however, is a good thing. These are the truths you benefit from hearing, because they will help you accurately develop your answer to our current question.
Objective measures: The world is full of various scientific psychological and character assessments. Many of them are available for free. Even more are available for a price. If you want hard evidence of how good you really are, data-driven assessments can provide you with at least some of what you’re looking for.
So can awards, honors, degrees, and other accolades. You may have already accumulated some of these. You may want to try for others, if only to help mark specifically how good you really are.
The result of all this investigation and evaluation will help you get a handle on the answer to the basic question: “How good are you, really?” That’s important, because when you know how good you are, really, you won’t need to pretend to be any better, nor will you foolishly fall victim to The Imposter Syndrome or otherwise feel inadequate when you’re not
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