You either have it or you don’t

A few days ago, while I was at the hair salon, Debbie*, the twentysomething who was washing my hair, offered to give me a scalp massage.  Without even thinking about it I accepted her very generous offer.  Shortly after she started, it became obvious that she was not good at it.  Aside from missing all the pressure points on my head, her hands had no strength and even felt weightless on my scalp. Sure I’m aware that my assessment of her performance is harsh and to some extent ungrateful.

But hear me out before you judge me too harshly. 

It was Debbie’s subpar performance that made me think about what happens when a person chooses a career that requires them to use skills which they do not have a natural talent for.

Taking Debbie’s example, from how she performed a simple activity with her hands, it appears that she doesn’t have a knack for using her hands, yet has chosen a career which depends on her manual abilities.  I’m open to your opinion, but I suspect that her lack of talent in giving scalp massages is strongly linked to her potential (or lack of) as a hair-dresser.  Granted she’s relatively new in the field, and she could certainly learn the trade, but I think that she’ll never get to be a superstar.  And my main concern is that if she continues to do something she’s not great at, she’s incurring an opportunity cost.  So are her employer and her customers.   The tricky part is she’s just so friendly and has such a great attitude that her employer is probably willing to over-look her lack of talent and her customers are willing to put up with a mediocre service because it’s being delivered with a smile.  

The question is will she be much better off (and successful) doing something that comes naturally to her?  For example, I think that she’d be great in sales or customer service.  By observing her, it seemed that she was enjoying herself and was great at speaking with people and booking appointments over the phone.  Down the line, because she has experience working in a salon, she could sell beauty products and eventually manage a sales team.  All activities which use her communication skills more than her hands.

It might be too late for me to tell Debbie all this, but it’s not too late for any of us to learn from her example.  Take time right now, as I did (while getting a lukewarm scalp massage) to think about your own strengths and weaknesses at work. 

List all those skills that you have that you feel you acquired quite effortlessly and that you tend to be better at doing than most.  Then be honest with yourself and list all those things which do not come naturally to you and that it’s taken quite an effort for you to learn. 

Looking at your list of strengths, do you think you’ll be able to get paid for any of your strong skills?  For example I’m told by those who know me that I have exceptional hand-eye coordination and that I’m a great communicator.  I did play college level tennis but I never developed the strength of a pro.  On the other hand, I’ve made a good living in business development by building strong relationships with clients.  As far as my weaknesses go, while I know enough about balance sheets and income statements, I know that accounting is far from a strength of mine.  It took me way too much effort and time to get a passing grade in my accounting courses in business school.  Consequently I’m not going for the CFO position.

Now what should I do about Debbie?  Should I give her a copy of this post and save her some time?

*Name made up to avoid over-using pronouns.

Like the picture? Zio Dave at flickr


6 thoughts on “You either have it or you don’t

  1. Your article makes a lot of sense Silvana. While spending time on certain things that don’t come naturally might make sense as a hobby or side interest, it’s unwise to force yourself into it full-time. I’d suggest people do as you say and do something that come easier for now. There’s no reason why you can keep trying or practicing something and then go back into it at full steam in the future when perhaps it will come more naturally.

  2. @Alex – Thanks for your insight. It was only recently that I came to terms with my own reality – and stopped trying to what felt like fitting a square into a circle. While I believe in playing to my strengths, I also know that it has been during those times that I haven’t that I’ve learned the most.
    @Darren – Thanks so much! Stay tuned…

  3. One could have said the same thing about a fisherman leaving his comfort zone to become the cornerstone of a new church, a hamburger slinger becoming the latest CEO of MacD, etc. etc. There’s something to be said about focusing on some well defined talent or knack – but I’ve known too many folks who do what they do cause no one had given them an opportunity or motivation to explore their other talents.

    A while back I learned that we are only responsible for our own actions. If only we embraced mentoring, motivating and nurturing as part of our life responsibility. Maybe constructive feedback would’ve helped, maybe not… Sometimes we never know the results of our involvement, which is okay with me…

  4. Silvana, compartiendo tus comentarios acerca de las competencias en nuestro trabajo estoy muy de acuerdo contigo que debemos con frecuencia hacernos un autoanalis de nuestro desempeño, detectando fortalezas y debilidades , yo lo hago y asi mismo aconsejo a mis entrenados que lo realicen cada dia, semanal, mensual y anualmente , al hacerlo estamos evaluando la eficiencia en nuestra actividad pero lo mas importante es orientarnos hacia una mejora constante y nuestro crecimiento personal.
    Gracias por la oportunidad de poder escribir en tu pagina en español, gracias a la traduccion puedo entender tus ideas.
    Te deseo un feliz 2009 !!
    Luz Eugenia

  5. Gracias Luz por compartir tu experiencia. Me parece genial lo del auto-analisis. Siento que un paso crucial en ese proceso es buscar formas de manejar nuestras debilidades, y asi poder dedicar mas tiempo fortaleziendo nuestros talentos.

    Muchas gracias por todo tu apoyo.

    Tambien te deseo un año lleno de felicidad, salud y abundancia.

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