Monday, August 30, 2021

Should you spend more time getting even better at the things at which you already excel, or trying to improve the things at which you're not naturally good?

One of the best bosses I've ever had (and I've had some very, very good ones) was Cindy, who was originally my colleague at Dix & Eaton before becoming my manager at The Cleveland Foundation. She very deftly balanced being instructive and inspirational with being constructively critical.

If you've ever managed people, you know that's often not as easy as it looks.

I used to work on a variety of print pieces at the foundation, mostly newsletters and the like but occasionally larger and fancier publications. It requires a range of skills to put something like that together, and the one area where I never had any problem was writing copy. In general, I'm pretty good at that and I like doing it.

Where I wasn't especially good was reviewing and providing feedback on the design and layout. A graphic designer would send us a draft, and in most cases I would look at it and say, "That's great!"

And I meant it. I rarely had any changes to the look and feel of a given piece, partly because I am no designer and, honestly, any piece of semi-professional design is impressive to me.

Cindy, however, always had feedback for designers, and it was inevitably helpful feedback. She had an eye for improving communication by maximizing the way it was packaged, and I envied her for it.

One time I told her I would try to develop a more critical eye for evaluating graphic design, and her response was insightful.

She told me, "That's fine, but I wouldn't worry too much about it. You're only going to get so good at it, and your time is probably better spent improving the things you're good at and making an even bigger impact with those."

Which makes sense, I suppose. Your margin for improvement when it comes to a given task or skill may be somewhat limited to begin with, and it's even more limited when you're (a) not already good at it, and/or (b) don't particularly enjoy it in the first place.

So in answer to the question in the headline, I'm not saying you shouldn't try to shore up the areas where you're lacking and which might be beneficial for you to improve. But don't bang your head against the wall needlessly. You can probably make a bigger contribution (whether it's at home or work or wherever) going from good to great with the stuff you already enjoy doing.

All of which is why I don't plan to practice my carpentry skills any time soon because, let's be honest, tools and I aren't ever going to really get along with each other.

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