Simon, one of American Idol’s three judges, is a fan favorite of mine. His candor is refreshing to me. Even though his remarks have the potential to hurt my ego, they still surprise me. However, regular feedback designed to make you feel good, let you down easy, and is sugar-coated is not much of a gift.
It is difficult to tell someone they are not good enough and that their dreams will not be realized, at least not in this environment. However, keeping this information to oneself is not a gift. Some of the competitors are up to the challenges he throws at them. Others are unable to. Which group do you belong to?
People who were most critical of my work were also the most influential in my professional life. After suffering from a badly injured ego for a few days and occasionally for a few months, their input invariably assisted me in making the appropriate decisions in my life, whether to improve, change course, or maintain the same intensity.
In fact, I am most grateful to the manager who was the most demanding of me. If I could do better, being good was not enough, and she was never afraid to tell me when I fell short of her standards. She didn’t even bother to smile. If I’m honest, she was right. What’s so funny about that?
One of the obstacles to professional success is being truthful with oneself. Throughout my career, I’ve met many people suffering from American Idol Syndrome (AIS). Everyone possesses skills and competencies, but not all of those competencies are aligned with the career paths we choose.
These people think they’re good, similar to the contestants who audition for American Idol despite having little to no singing ability. They believe they are capable of playing on the varsity team, but their actual playing abilities are more junior varsity level. They are wholly perplexed as to why they were not chosen for the promotion, given a glowing review, or given the largest pay raises.
I received a D in biology when I was a first-year student at Stanford. The first quarter grades were a rude awakening for someone who was used to getting A’s. At first, I convinced myself that a D at Stanford was equivalent to an A or a B at almost any other school. Because Stanford uses a bell curve to determine grades, a score of 84 percent, which would generally place me in the B level, put me at the bottom of the class.
However, the truth eventually triumphed. I was not attending a different school. If I wanted to succeed at the school I was attending at the time, I needed to use skills beyond those taught in high school.
Are you putting forth any effort? Are you giving your all to get a raise, a promotion, or more interesting work? If these are important to you, avoid developing AIS. Put your ego aside. Try making comments to yourself in the style of Simon. A response similar to Simon’s to the questions “how good are you?” and “are you in the right field?” allows you to improve your working life in a way that makes you happier and more successful.
Depending on the responses, you can continue down the same path, find a playing field suitable for your abilities, improve your abilities to compete where you are, or change directions.