Learn What You Cannot Do To Know What You Can

by · March 17, 20145 comments

The first two years of my post-education profession life I was a radio broadcast producer. But I wasn’t just a radio broadcast producer, I was a network producer in New York City for ABC Radio Sports. While that may or may not sound impressive, when you take into account I was 23-years-old and just five years prior was a snot-nosed punk teenager in a 7,000-person town nestled in the mountains of Appalachia, it’s none-too-small a feat.

But I don’t say that to brag. I tell you this to set up the point of the story. For after my stint in the cool and trendy world of big-time radio, I followed my heart and moved home to be with my girlfriend (now wife of 13 years). For many, this was professional suicide. I made it! I was a full-time associate producer at the network level at age 25. I was working on one of the top five most widely syndicated radio shows in the world at the time. If I  just played the hand dealt, I would likely run a network sports division by my mid-30s, perhaps even move over to the TV side of things, made more money than I knew what to do with and retired early to write books about my heroes.

Two weeks after I left my awesome job, I was waiting tables at an Olive Garden.

Bad Waiter by Lotterimanden from FunnyJunk.com

It took three weeks for me to quit. But it wasn’t out of humiliation for the drop in rank. It was out of humiliation that I couldn’t do the job. On my last day, a table of six older women left me a $3.00 tip on a $90 bill. Several other tables walked out without a tip. One walked without paying. I was the world’s worst waiter.

Something about the organizational skills of balancing multiple tables and orders and keeping the timing of refilling glasses and salad bowls and delivering checks and so on was lacking in me. It was beyond my capability. It was the first time in life I’d ever experienced something I simply could not do.

But it was the most important job I ever had because it helped me learn two things: I have limitations and how to spot them.

Learning that there was something I wasn’t good at helped me apply for jobs in the future that I was. It also helped me be more honest with interviewers. I could actually say, “If I’m put in a position where I have to be supremely organized, I struggle.” I would use the waiter example and the hiring manager would know I either was or wasn’t a good fit. That admission probably saved me from 2-3 jobs along the way that I would have hated, or that would have hated me.

Over the years, I learned more of my limitations. Broadly, I’m a thinker, not a doer. That’s why when I started Social Media Explorer I told clients, “I’m not going to Tweet for you or write your blog posts, but I’m going to help you build a good roadmap for doing them yourself that will move your business.” That’s also why, when I decided Social Media Explorer needed to be more than me, I went out and got people who could do what I couldn’t. Not only is Nichole Kelly far more detail and process oriented than I am, but she has the vision and desire to build an agency that will execute as well as strategize for clients. That is, in fact, what we are today.

But it may never had been if I hadn’t been humiliated by the Soup, Salad and Breadsticks crowd.

It’s easy for us to think of our current position or even one that we wish to obtain and identify what we like about the job. It’s probably even easier to identify what we don’t like about it. But it takes a different kind of self-awareness to know what about that job limits you. What can you not do comfortably, or even at all?

Knowing that will make your next job even better than you imagined.

What are you good at? What are you not? The comments are yours.

IMAGE: Bad Waiter by Lotterimanden on FunnyJunk.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://nickhuhn.com/ nickhuhn

    I’ve learned that I don’t get along with those lacking in integrity. It’s made for a choppy career path, but I’m eternally grateful for the lessons in ‘what not to do.’

  • http://www.brand.com/blog James R. Halloran

    Thanks for sharing your personal story here, Jason! I’ve had my share of customer service-oriented jobs that I learned I can’t handle very well. I don’t know how some people deal with it, but I reach a breaking point where I just don’t give a damn about a customer’s problem anymore. That’s why I avoid those kinds of jobs, haha.

    Even though it wasn’t the best time in my life, it did teach me something about myself. My problem is I don’t like working with other people for very long. I like being a Lone Wolf. The only problem obviously is that there aren’t a lot of jobs that provide such a luxury other than writing. (Surprised? Ha!)

  • http://simplifytechnologyblog.com/ Barb Brady-Simplify Technology

    Hi Jason,

    This is a really good story with a really good lesson. I do like that you followed your heart . . . finding a teammate in life is something to be proud of. I also like that you learned lessons from successes and not-so-successes… and that you shared them.

    I also just have to say this is a very good title. It is catchy and made me wonder what the post was about.

    Again, I liked the post.

    Barb

    P.S. I read this on kingged.com

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  • Hillary McBride

    Dear Jason,

    Excellent and so so honest. I used to view the inevitable “What are your weaknesses?” question in interviews as a trick question, and had my stock trick answer at the ready: “I’m a perfectionist and I work too hard”. Since then, I’ve had two jobs in which I was absolutely miserable. I was okay at the job as far as my supervisors were concerned, but found that my passion, nay my very soul, was being sucked from my body on an hourly basis because I was doing things that I did not enjoy. Now I view the “what is your weakness” question as an opportunity to find myself in the right kind of job and avoid another kind of wrong job. I know: that I am very organized and process oriented; that I am a doer who must tick things off a list to feel the day was worthwhile; and that I am not so creative, but can run with creative ideas until they are implemented. Oh, and I suck at math, but luckily that is what calculators are for ;). Thanks for the reminder of this great lesson learned!