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Michael Gardon

  • Writer's pictureMichael Gardon

Why Is It So Hard to Perceive Our Own Abilities? - The Break Issue 22

Updated: Mar 19

Welcome to the 64 new members of The Break! We are all on a mission to break our careers (and that’s a good thing!).

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#breaknotes - TLDR

Here’s what we’re learning this week:

  • Why its so hard to value our own abilities

  • The Dunning-Krueger Effect (DKE)

  • How DKE manifests

  • How to combat DKE

  • How Advantage Mapping Plays a role


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Why it's hard to value our own abilities

“I don’t know what I’m good at.”

It’s a phrase I hear from people in all walks of life - included highly driven, growth minded individuals.

If I’m being honest, I’ve spend my entire life not knowing what I’m good at - even when people tell me to my face.

Social media exacerbates this problem. Everyone tells you to be an Expert in something, but how can you think you’re an expert when you go on Linkedin or Twitter and see people who are 3 years ahead of you and have massive followings?

Also, how do you define “expertise”?

Do you have to be better than everyone at something?

Better than 90% of people?


This relative comparison leads us to question our own abilities, and mentally bury our true talents that can fuel our energy and can actually help people.

Turns out this phenomenon of why it’s hard to perceive our own abilities has a name: The Dunning-Krueger Effect.

How Dunning-Krueger Effect stunts your growth

The Dunning-Krueger Effect is a phenomenon that skews our capacity to perceive our own abilities accurately.

It works two ways:

1. Beginners with lack of skill overestimate their competence in an area.

On the surface, this seems counter-intuitive. How can a beginner think they’re great at something?

Well, it’s all about the velocity of progress. If you perceive that you are making a big leap and that your effort so far has been easy, you might think you have a natural aptitude for the given skill. Then when you proceed a bit further, you realize things aren’t as easy as they seem.

  • think 2021 crypto investing craze - eveyone’s an expert!

  • now think 2022 crash - everyone’s broke

In my estimation, this way affects approximately 15% of people who are beginners. The impact here can be catastrophic - ie losing all of your money in crypto, but usually impact is small since beginners learn quickly there’s more to competence.

The may way to avoid ruin in this stage is to simply bet small.

2. People who excel in a given area think the task is simple for everyone, and underestimate their relative abilities.

This is the big kahuna - it prevents almost everyone from truly aligning who they are with what they do.

We think because something is easy for us, that it must be easy for everyone else. Therefore, that skill is either not important or not uniquely valuable/leverage-able.

When we assume the skill is not uniquely valuable we underestimate the market potential and close opportunity doors instead of opening them.

But the error we are making here is that skill is relative.

We all are on a spectrum. Just because someone is better than you, doesn’t take anything away from how good you are.

Most of us think:

  • Spreadsheets are easy for me

  • Must be easy for everyone

  • Therefore spreadsheets are not uniquely valuable

How does Dunning-Krueger play out?

The general outcomes of DKE are:

  • We get mad imposter syndrome

  • Our true talents stay hidden

  • We stop thinking creatively about our careers

  • We spend 20 years frustrated

  • We feel like our true potential is untapped

  • We rationalize

  • We regret

All because we haven’t figure out how to uncover our true talents, value them correctly and apply them toward a new way of being that aligns with our potential.

Now that you know what DKE is, here’s how to proceed:

You’ve identified a problem. In one of my favorite books, Principles, Ray Dalio says a key principle for growth is “uncover problems and do not tolerate them.” That means now you know something is off, so your job is to eliminate the problem. Here’s a simplistic approach:

  • Don’t continue to short change yourself

  • Uncover your true talents

  • Get space to creatively apply these talents

  • Design a new vision of yourself

  • Explore that vision in a risk-reduced way

This is where Advantage Mapping comes in

Proceeding is easier said than done.

So we need structure to help us get going.

My Advantage Mapping Concept is designed to help people uncover and explore their hidden talents and apply them in new ways to find alignment.

By using this process you gather feedback and explore 8 areas of advantage including expertise, skills, interests and energy. To take specific actions to get the feedback you need from peers, 360 reviews, assessments and your own reflection.

Then we pull out common themes and do an opportunity area exploration of how to apply those themes in new careers for better alignment.

You can read more about Advantage Mapping, or ask a question in the embedded Linkedin post above. Its free!

See you again next week.

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What’s happening on the pod?

I was on the Uncaged podcast with Matt Doan and I got to talk about my Investment in Loss idea.

You made it to the end! Hopefully you learned something about breaking your career today! If so, please share this with someone you care about.

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