IKEA instructions give me the cold sweats.
My dad was a carpenter, but I am not the least bit handy, unless you want me to screw in a lightbulb or put a nail in a wall to hang a photo. It took me an hour to figure out how to change the spark plug in my lawnmower last summer. Also, I currently cannot solve even the most remedial algebra equation. And I am terrible at remembering names.
On the other hand, I am a talented artist. An excellent speaker. A really good writer. Pretty handy in the kitchen, too.
Even though there are people who wish they were half as good as me at the things I do well, I bemoan the areas of my life where I am below average and beat myself up for not being better at the things I stink at. Can you relate?
I blame the report card.
In our traditional education system, the report card is a record of our proficiency in a wide variety of subjects: math, science, language, history, physical fitness, etc. And what’s the ideal? Straight A’s. We are ranked according to grade point average, and the only path to the top is being awesome at everything.
The downfall of this scenario is that if someone passes English with flying colors, but performs poorly in math, we’re liable to brand them as deficient and stick them in a remedial class.
Imagine: Beethoven can’t pass a spelling test so we label him as one of the dumb kids.
From our earliest days, the report card makes it clear that success looks like being good at everything. Anything less is frowned upon. Is it any wonder why people apologize when they’re not an expert after trying something for the first time?
Spoiler alert: people who get straight A’s are not actually good at everything. I should know because my report card was often filled with them. The only definitive thing straight A’s tells you is that you were good at…school.
Unfortunately, being good at school is a different skill set than winning at life.
This subconscious programming by our educational system is a severe detriment to our ability and willingness to tinker. Not only does it limit our future growth, but it’s also not at all reflective of what we encounter in the real world.
In the real world, we are rewarded for what we do well, not for being well-rounded.
Lebron James does one thing really, really well, and is richly rewarded for it. I’m not sure if he ever passed trigonometry.
Let’s not argue that we place too much value on tossing an orange ball through a circle with a net for a dress – I tend to agree – because the premise still stands:
Do you care if your dentist got a D in history?
Do you care if the chef at your favorite restaurant aced geography?
When your kitchen is flooding, do you care if your plumber has always struggled to understand what the hell Shakespeare was talking about?
The report card lied. Getting straight A’s is not the best indicator for success in life. You don’t have to be great at everything. You don’t even have to be the “Lebron James” of anything.
You just need to assemble a talent stack.
Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, popularized this concept which states that all you have to do to ensure success is assemble a “stack” of complementary skills and be in the top 15 percent or so of each. Do that and you’ll be unstoppable. In his case, he readily admits he’s not the best artist, the funniest humorist, or the most knowledgable about the inner workings of corporations. But his unique combination of those skillsets has contributed to his success as a cartoonist. My own career took off when I was able to harmoniously blend my art, writing, and speaking skills.
Please hear me. You not being good at everything doesn’t make you broken. Or less than. Or not enough.
It makes you human.
We weren’t designed to be all-powerful, self-sufficient beings. We were designed to need one another. I get paid to give a speech that encourages a team and I use the money to pay a plumber to fix my sink’s leaky pipe. We are made to work together, and we all have a part to play.
Your job is to combine the handful of things you’re really good at and let them shine in a way only you can.
Trust me, the rest of us aren’t that bright.