Self Perception — or Self Deception

Years ago I worked in a blue-collar technical position … fixing Doppler radar navigation systems and other esoteric avionics systems on USAF aircraft.  I was a civilian government worker, and thus very familiar with regulations, books forms and yet more forms … our work world was as much paper as it was physical.

I worked nights because I enjoyed being away from the view of the "front office" and my perception was, they didn’t like seeing me that much anyway … nothing really major but a bit of friction from time to time.

One night yet another form was in my office mailbox.  It was a thick document with page after page of listings of all the various tasks we performed in our work … and a few I’d never heard of as well.  The form insisted we rate ourselves on each and every task using a very simple scale of only four levels of competency … expert, skilled, semi-skilled and trainable. 

Peeved with the perceived waste of time I sat down and made my way through the list marking a lot of the tasks "trainable", a great many "semi-skilled", all the ones I worked on a nightly basis "skilled" and perhaps 2 or 3 out of the entire list "expert".  Like many of you, I suspect, I have an aversion to self-proclaimed "experts" and I really hate "tooting my own horn", especially about knowledge I am already assumed to have.

Next night I had a note to see Mr. Bob Waters, a very senior civilian supervisor in our unit, two levels above my boss … a guy whom colonels often addressed as "sir".  Worried at what sort of jam I had got myself into, at the end of the work shift, instead of going home to bed, I made my way to Bob’s office and cooled my heels until he called me in.

On the desk in front of him was that self-appraisal form I had filled out the night before.  Hmmm,  First thing that came to my mind was he was going to question why I had marked myself expert on some things … probably was going to bitch at me for over-inflating my competency level … there was a connection in the future between that form and possible future pay reviews.

Turns out Bob did want to question me on that subject.  He told me he was very disappointed in me because I had ranked myself so low on so many tasks … especially because I had given myself so few "expert" ratings.

When I protested, Bob asked me if I realized why he allowed me to work nights for him?  Not knowing how I ought to answer, he asked further if people in my workplace ever asked me for help or took me with them on difficult tasks.

Well, of course they did I responded, many of the guys on my crew are younger and inexperienced so it’s part of my job to help them out and train them.

"Bingo!" was Bob’s response.  "When others come to you for help or look to you for guidance, you become an expert.  You are one of my most experienced technicians.  I honored your request to work nights berceuse I knew your skills and I knew you would keep these guys out of trouble and get airplanes fixed, on time.  Believe me, if I didn’t have that confidence in you, you’d be working day shift, right outside my office, where I could keep an eye on you.  Regardless of what you seem to think of yourself, Dave, you are one of my key experts in your field, or you wouldn’t be where you are.  Now redo this form and mark it properly."

I learned a lot about myself and about managerial and leadership skills in that five minute conversation with Bob.  And based on personal conversations and thousands of comments on other blogs that I’ve read, I will wager there are a huge number of you out there who would have benefited a lot from a conversation with Bob Waters as well.

Every one of you reading this post have expertise in certain things.  Those of you in my real target group, seniors and retirees who want to make money online have expertise in a world of tasks … you didn’t stay alive and support yourself to the age of 50 or 60 or 70 by keeping your eyes closed and knowing nothing.  Even if you’re a teenager in high school you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for … and someone out there would love to know what you know … the beauty of the ‘Net, and of blogging is … they can find you.  Don’t you be the judge of what you have expertise in …. get off the dime and put your expertise on the line and let the public be your own personal "Bob Waters".

I tend to write too long.  I’ll stop.  I’ll also highly recommend this article by Christine OKelly on increasing your perceived value.  She says what I wanted to say, but says it better.  Thanks, Christine.