Learn What You Cannot Do To Know What You Can

No, I will not refill your breadstick basket

by Jason Falls |

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.

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).