Have you ever asked yourself:
How would I know if I’m deluded? What if I’m swimming in a giant pool of denial?
Simple: YOU ASK, says Peter Spevak, a psychologist at the Center for Applied Motivation, outside Washington, DC, and co-author of Empowering Underachievers: New Strategies to Guide Kids (8 - 18) to Personal Excellence. “We all have several data points—from friends, family, and coworkers—with which to gauge our competence, but we may have to ask what they really think.” Others often can more accurately assess traits or skills in which our egos are invested, such as our appearance or intelligence or ability to hold a high C. They can give real feedback about our aptitude.
The hard part is learning to listen once the trusted source starts to answer the question. Someone may not be saying the things that we hope to hear, but hearing the feedback genuinely is key to knowing your talents and your limits.
Facing an unfavorable assessment can be painful, but it also may break you out of [a debilitating] trap. From the time she was eight, Melissa Levis knew what she’d do with her life: Be a playwriting superstar of musical theater. Her aunt was the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, and, “I saw that living that life was not just a pipe dream,” says Levis.
After earning a master’s degree in musical theater writing from New York University, Levis had her first show, The Joys of Sex, performed off-Broadway, when she was 33. She expected Joys to run forever. Instead, the play closed after two months.
For many people, an off-Broadway production would be the accomplishment of a lifetime. But Levis had such high hopes for herself that she felt heartbroken and a little ashamed. She spent the summer at her parents’ home in Vermont, sulking. After a few weeks, she began volunteering as a music teacher at a day-care center near their house. Within a month she’d become wildly popular and even gotten her own kids’ show on local cable access. “By accident, I discovered how much fun I had singing with kids,” she says [looking back on her trials and triumphs].
Levis decided to combine her disappointment about the play’s middling success with her newfound love of performing for kids. She formed a company, Lemonade Productions, and now writes and performs her own kids’ music, plays in Central Park, and is in negotiations for a national TV show. “I’ve found the application for both of my dreams, music and performing” she says. “It’s worked out better than I could have anticipated.” Levis was honest with herself and clear-eyed enough to both see her limitations and reapply her strengths.
In Melissa’s case, hind sight may be 20/20 as she tells of her Broadway woes, but her current happiness could not have been achieved without moving past her frustrations and into something new. Like Melissa, many talented individuals find themselves sulking in defeat. Unlike Melissa, a large percentage of those sulkers never find a new creative outlet that could lead on to a bright and fulfilling future. In these cases, we become our own worst enemies. What is holding you back from reaching your dreams?