Only your friends will tell you

Listening to episode 5 of Back to Work this week, there was a general undercurrent of tough love. Discussing the plight of frustrated cubicle workers in dead-end jobs, Dan kept poking at Merlin to extract advice for people who desire the independence to pursue something bigger. Here are some of the high points (not exact quotations, but close enough); brace yourself.

"Maybe you don't deserve independence yet." 

"Start with a soul-searching idea of how good you really are... you may not have independence because you don’t have expertise."

"If you're good at what you do, you also have an idea of how good you are at it. If you think you're an expert, but you suck horribly (and people haven't told you how bad you are at it), a podcast isn't going to help you."

"If you were THAT good, you wouldn’t have the job you have."

"You first have to own up to the fact that you don’t know as much as you think, and then do a lot of work to keep getting better."

"If you’re struggling that hard with what you want to do, you just haven’t distinguished yourself yet."

"What have you ever done that was that great? [Your boss] isn't gonna put his/her job on the line for you without having seen it out of you before."

"When you stop worrying about what other people are giving you and start worrying about what you are able to produce for yourself, your vision changes so completely you’re not going to believe the question ever came out of your mouth."

Sobering advice. (In fact, there was some discussion around whether there's a nicer way to say it.) And in a post today, here's a very similar sentiment from Seth Godin:

"If you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, there are only two possible reasons:
1. People don’t know what you’re worth, or
2. You’re not (currently) worth as much as you believe

Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Once the sting wears off, we can discover some valuable insight in these ideas. It takes guts to make an honest assessment of how good we really are at our craft, and might even require some outside opinions we're not comfortable hearing. Likewise, it takes a certain amount of swagger to be unapologetic about our bona fide expertise and confidently look people in the eye and make a meaningful promise. But both need to happen.

This gets at the heart of effective communication. When you know (really, really, know... based on more than your own opinions) what you're great at, and build your message/brand/service around it, things really start to click. The greatest ads, best-selling products and most successful businesses are the ones built around this discipline.