How to Recognize What You’re Really, Really Good At
It's not about doing everything—it's about doing one thing exceptionally
When Entrepreneur editor in chief Jason Feifer reached out to tell us that he was a fan of Every, we were honored. The magazine's mission to provide information thats help founders of all stripes build businesses dovetails with Every’s. So today, we’re delighted to publish this piece adapted from Jason’s weekly newsletter, One Thing Better, that provides one way to be more successful and satisfied at work, and build a career or company you love. Check out Nathan’s article, about how to write ideas that spread, on Entrepreneur’s site. —Kate
One of life’s biggest challenges is figuring out what you’re good at. But something else can be even harder—figuring out what you’re, frankly, not so good at. Coming to terms with your shortcomings, or the things you can’t quite excel at, is an incredibly valuable skill. That’s because you don’t have to be good at everything. In fact, in this era of professional specialization, it can be much more advantageous if you’re not. The best way you can become valuable is by not doing everything, but, instead, by doing something really well—and by knowing your own limitations.
DALL-E 2. Prompt: "One-line drawing of a person carrying many objects in their hands, but accidentally dropping some of them."
Imagine almost having everything
The year is 1999. Marc Randolph is the CEO and cofounder of a startup called Netflix, which is struggling to grow. He can’t figure out why.
One day, Marc hears a knock at his office door. It’s his fellow cofounder, Reed Hastings, who asks if he can show Marc a PowerPoint presentation.
Sure, Marc says. So Reed begins.
“At first I couldn’t quite understand what was happening,” Marc told me in an interview.
That’s because this wasn’t a typical PowerPoint presentation. It was kind of… about Marc. Reed made a presentation about Marc for Marc.
Eventually, Marc understood. In his presentation, Reed argued that he should replace Marc as the company’s CEO. I asked Marc how he processed this. “I remember sitting in the dark for quite a long time, while the office slowly shut down around me,” Marc told me. “I remember driving home and sitting out on my back porch with my wife, having a glass of wine and talking this through—and recognizing that, although it was incredibly painful and disappointing, Reed was right.”
But the reason why Reed was right was the revelation that altered the course of Marc’s life. Marc dreamed of being a big-time CEO—the guy who can make a company worth billions. But, Reed thought, he was not good at doing that. It’s why Netflix was stuck. That’s not to say Marc was useless, though. “What I truly loved was the early stages,” he told me. “And I'll be modest here—it's what I'm actually good at!”
In fact, this is exactly what he’d already done at Netflix. He turned an idea into a company. But he wasn’t the guy to grow it into a billion-dollar company—because that requires a separate skillset. Marc had a choice: he could either be an amazing version of his amazing self, or he could be a mediocre version of someone else. He chose to be amazing. He stepped down as CEO and went on to a career helping early-stage startups—which is to say, Marc Randolph now wakes up every day doing the thing he is best at.
You can do that, too. Marc’s story can be shortened like this: he discovered his limitations, and it helped him recognize his strength.
Three questions to ask yourself
Think about what you’re struggling with and ask yourself:
1. Why am I not excellent at this? I’m using “excellent” on purpose. NBA All-Star Chris Bosh once told me, “We don't work to be average.” It’s true—we work to be excellent. Because excellence gives us purpose and excitement. And excellence is worth sharing. Other people deserve our excellence. So, why are you not excellent? There are many reasonable answers to this question. Maybe you’re learning something new. Maybe you’re exploring. Or building. Excellence takes time, and it is hard, and that’s OK. If your new pursuit satisfies and excites you, then please, please—keep going. But if you don’t have a good answer to the question, then it’s time to ask another one:
2. Is it because I’m excellent at something else? This sounds so obvious. But in the moment, it doesn’t feel obvious. It sure didn’t to Marc. Maybe the answer is right in front of you. Maybe it is not. Either is fine.
I’ve gone through a version of this myself. For most of my career, I aspired to be a celebrated magazine features writer. These are the people who write regularly for the New Yorker or the New York Times Sunday Magazine—whose big, award-winning, investigative articles get turned into movies, and that used to be buzzed about by all the big-time journalists on Twitter.
But I never achieved that. Oh, I tried! I really tried. I wrote a lot of magazine features. And they were received… fine. But no awards. No movie deals. The New Yorker never reached out. And deep down, I understood: I’m perfectly good at this, but I’m not excellent. And that hurts.
Now, third question:
3. What would happen if I just did the thing I’m excellent at? Nobody ever said, "Shaq was a terrible basketball player because he couldn't shoot three-pointers." No. Shaq was amazing because he did a few things very, very well. So try this thought experiment. Let’s say you know what you’re excellent at. How much of your day is spent doing it? Twenty percent? Fifty percent, if you’re lucky? So what would it look like if you increased that? What if 80 percent of your day was spent on what you’re excellent at? I bet it sounds good. Now, how do you make that happen?
Maybe you make a major change. Maybe you just do your job differently. Maybe you start offloading work that takes you away from your excellence. Maybe you just start to see the pathway towards maximizing yourself.
DALL-E 2. Prompt: "One-line drawing of a person holding one large colorful object, very confidently."
Or maybe this isn’t possible right now. That’s also fine! Not all of us are Marc Randolph, who can casually step down as CEO of a company. But we can build a bridge there. We can work backwards, and think: to get there tomorrow, what needs to happen today? And what if you simply don’t know what you’re excellent at? Well, it’s time to think deeper.
Like I said: I am not an excellent investigative magazine features writer. But years ago, as I thought about it, I realized: I am excellent at something underneath that. I’m an excellent communicator. Magazine features were just one way I tried expressing that skill. So what else can I do with that?
I didn’t really know. But I thought: I’ll just keep trying, and trying… This gave me the freedom to explore the kind of writing I’m doing right now. It didn’t come naturally. I had a lot of imposter syndrome at first. I wondered: will anyone take me seriously? It also required an emotional break with the work I’d done before—to think, “I am no longer that thing I identified with, but I'm making room to become something better.”
But once I started writing in an earnest, direct, helpful way—tapping into a part of myself I’d never let fully bloom—people sent me long, personal notes about how it helped them. Nobody did that when I was just a magazine writer. And oh, it matters. It is an incredible gift, helping people like this. It feels, in a word, excellent.
I asked Marc Randolph if he has advice for others. “If people are looking for what success is,” he told me, “then spending your day doing the things you love: That's success.” Success is not doing everything, in other words. It’s doing something—something meaningful, something purposeful.