Sunday, May 19, 2013

You're not "awesome," you're "awesome at"

Here in Silicon Valley, we like to throw around words like "awesome," "killer," "kickass," and "rockstar."  In fact, we've even made "rockstar" into an all-purpose adjective, as in "rockstar developer" or "rockstar salesperson."

(Can it be long before we start using "rockstar" as a verb?  As in, "I really rockstarred that latest release!"  Ugh.)

Lost in all this enthusiasm is the realization that people aren't "awesome," they're "awesome at."

"Awesome at" does two things--it clarifies just what a person excels in, and it sets a clear boundary on that excellence.

History is rife with examples of "awesome" causing disasters which the application of "awesome at" could have prevented.  Think of all the unsuccessful second startups of famed entrepreneurs--being awesome at building one type of company (free email) doesn't mean you're awesome at building a completely different type (e-commerce).

There are two ways you can use this insight.  First, when someone tells you that they or someone they know are "awesome," ask, "What are the specific things that this person is awesome at?"

Second, take a deep look at your own situation.  I'm sure you're awesome, but have you defined what you're really awesome at?

I'm lucky, in that my wife sees it as her job to make sure she reminds of all the things I'm not awesome at.  It may not be great for my ego, but my ego isn't my chief concern.  Knowing what I'm not awesome at helps me figure out where I actually do excel.


undoctrinated said...


Has it always been the case that ego is not your chief concern? If not, do you mind sharing how you got there?

Not related to the thrust of your post, but I'm curious because I'm exploring that myself.


Chris said...

Excellent question. It probably makes sense to address it in another post. The short answer is that I always had a high opinion of myself, and had achieved a lot of things that helped me prove it.

After I became a father, however, I realized that these concerns weren't as important. I wrote up some of my thoughts on this here: