Bridging the Gaps of Competency
An underdog’s approach to systematic improvement of the skills you care about.
Sarah sighed into the phone, “I struggled to fit the mold.” The heavy weight of unmet expectations still hung on her. She was my new ghostwriting writing client, a beautiful 50-year-old woman who is quite successful, but who’d spent her life as an underdog. She spoke of the pains of having strict parents, who’d fled a bloody revolution in China, and brought high standards with them.
She’d worked hard in school but still brought home Cs, and the occasional B if she was lucky. It stood in painful contrast to her whiz-kid brother, who attended Yale and became a renowned heart surgeon. Yet today, Sarah is one of the country’s most skilled and effective executive recruiters, running a booming agency that’s bursting at the seams with new business. She has become a sought after and highly paid expert in her field.
All of this despite her parents worrying she’d ever make anything of herself. In the ensuing months, I asked her many questions about how she did it. Notably, she said, “I’m not afraid to work hard and learn. I know my limits. If I’m in over my head with something, I get someone smarter. I don’t have an ego about getting help.” Her success became a triumphant middle finger at all the bad report cards.
Though I lack her level of success, part of me related to her. I write for a living but had miserable experiences in high school English. After going to three high schools because of military moves, and having to read the same Jane Austen books on repeat, I lost all spirit and enthusiasm for the subject.
I groaned as my teacher set graded essays face-down on my desk. Faded red ink shined through, begging me to flip the paper over and smell the napalm. My teacher was a grey haired crank, a stickler for the rules, with a deep and preoccupying hatred for creative interpretation of said rules. His name even sounded strict: Mr. Sturgill. My one proud moment in his class was a final essay, “How to Fly a Kite” which he gave me an A- on, not realizing I was telling him to go fly a kite.
With my writing students, and even readers, I see a common curiosity and eagerness to improve and grow at…