When You’re Truly Good at Your Job, You Want to Hear the Ways You Suck at It
One of the most underrated ways to measure your professional success
About six months ago, I quit a job I was very good at. I was a staff writer at a digital publication, and was in line for a promotion. Lots of people told me that leaving was a bad idea. Mostly, I agreed with them. But I had an itch I needed to scratch, and frankly, I was bored. I left my job, and after a ton of hustling, ended up working for an early-stage venture capital fund based in San Francisco.
It turns out venture capital is not easy. And it was a rude awakening to realize that I was not particularly good at it — at least, not yet.
Part of it was learning a new culture. My advisor is a techy, Patagonia-loving, white man, and I’m a feminist Brooklynite who spends much of her time critiquing white men in Patagonia vests. Unlike journalism, where I saw success writing about my opinions and experiences, in VC, my opinions are often viewed as invalid, or unsubstantiated. When I filed investment reports that I thought were great, I’d get a “meh” in response.
He’s just not listening to me, I’d think. His loss.
I knew, of course, that this was not the most mature response. But what was wrong with it, exactly? And why is it such a common reaction? It turns out, there are several theories of why those who are the worst at their job are often so resistant to feedback — while those who truly excel tend to welcome criticism.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist well-known for her research on “growth mindsets,” has looked at the distinction between being driven by proving your performance, as opposed to being driven by learning opportunities. When our personal integrity is threatened — as it is when we’re insecure — initially, most of us deny and evade. But as we improve our skills and self-awareness over time, we learn to reframe “failures” as learning opportunities.
Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant puts it another way. He says an openness to — and even welcoming of — criticism demonstrates an evolution of motivation. “If your goal is to prove yourself, you’re afraid to be criticized,” Grant told me. “But if you’re striving…