Discover your blind spot



Feedback is a gift.

Everyone who has physical sight has a physical blind spot. Where your optic nerve exits the eye on its way to the brain, it creates an area on the retina without receptors that respond to light. Any image that falls in this region will not be seen.

Everyone also has a psychological blind spot—areas of your life that are apparent to everyone else but unseen by you.

The Johari Window (see graphic) is a simple four-pane grid that divides our self-awareness into four parts based on what other people know and don’t know about us and what we know and don’t know about ourselves.

To me, the most intriguing area is the unknown—those elements that are yet to be discovered. The most frightening area is the blind spot—areas of my life that are obvious to others but obscure to me.

Your blind spot (singular) encompasses multiple issues. Some of these issues are positive in nature—people may recognize strengths in you that you are unaware of. Some of the issues are negative—people see a flaw in your character or behavior that you don’t see. In this essay we’ll focus on the flaws because they are the hardest to uncover and acknowledge.

One of the greatest opportunities for self-improvement lies in discovering and disempowering these “unknown-to-self” flaws. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in life but the results are significant, even transformative. Here are some suggestions on how to become aware of your blind spot.

  • Acknowledge that you have a blind spot filled with numerous defects. What do you think? Does the upper right-hand quadrant of the Johari Window apply to you? Please say yes.
  • Desire to journey into this unknown and treacherous parcel of self.
  • Find someone who is insightful enough to see clearly what you cannot see and who is willing to speak truth to you. Most people either don’t have the insight or don’t have the courage to do this. Find that rare person who knows you well and is willing to tell you difficult information.
  • Ask this person(s) to speak into your life, assuring him or her that what they say will not compromise your relationship.
  • Accept what is said. Initially, you may be surprised at what is said and even deny that the problems exist. That’s normal, because it’s a…blind spot.
  • Meditate on these areas and embrace them as truth. Notice how they are manifest in your life and consider how these areas have hurt others and impeded your progress.
  • In an appropriate manner, go public with your intention to correct the flaws and solicit people who will hold you accountable. Give them a regular update on your progress.

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most sought-after life coaches in America. He works with high-level executives from all industries. He has a simple but highly effective strategy for helping his clients see and repair their blind spots. His book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There outlines the plan he uses with his clients. If you’re serious about dealing with your blind spot, read this book and follow his plan.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What? – Everyone has a psychological blind spot that can be discovered.
So what? – Our lives and relationships will improve when we eradicate our blind spot.
Now what? – Begin the process of discovering and eliminating your blind spot.

Balance breadth and depth

Be a jack-of-all trades and a master of one

jack-of-all6Anybody who acquires deep expertise does so at the expense of breadth. The challenge is to understand how much depth is enough, and how much is too much. —Andrew Hargadon

Most of us develop deep expertise in our profession and that’s necessary and good. Whatever profession you choose—teacher, physician, painter, architect, plumber—be good at it. There’s a bell curve in all human activity; make sure you’re on the right-hand side of the curve.

But there’s a point at which more expertise is unnecessary and even distracting. Do a cost-benefit analysis before going extreme. Will the cost of pursuing more expertise outweigh the benefit of doing so?

I have a friend who is extremely good at his profession, but that’s all he knows how to do. He has no other interests in life. He has burrowed deep into a narrow niche and lives only in that small area.

I have another friend who is extremely good at his profession, but she also has a broad curiosity about life and explores and excels in many areas. I prefer her approach.

Our world is a fascinating place; adopt a broad approach to life.

Be a jack of all trades and a master of one.

When considering depth and breadth, it need not be an either/or scenario; it can be both/and. Thomas Huxley said, “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” I like that. Have one well-developed area of expertise and stay fresh in that area, but also pursue multiple areas of interest.

Don’t underestimate your capacity to do more.

We all have more band-width than we think we do. Most of us can do 30-40% more than we’re doing. So don’t think that you can only handle one thing in life; bite off more than you can choose.

A broad knowledge base will make you a better and more interesting person.

In Western civilization, the “Renaissance person” (also called a polymath) is, presumably, the ideal to strive for—a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Think Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci—men who were multi-skilled and deeply impacted the world.

My son-in-law, Jonathan, is a polymath. He’s an emergency room physician, an instrument rated pilot, entrepreneur, sailor, flight surgeon for an F16 squad, works well with his hands…and the list goes on.

My associate, Paul, is a polymath. He’s musically talented, has a black-belt in Karate, is a master chef, speaks fluent Spanish…he could teach at the college level in multiple disciplines.

If I were Captain of a “game of life” and could choose my teammates, I would pick these two men. They are fully alive and have the focus, aggressiveness, and inventiveness to do anything they want to do.

I’ll close with a well-said thought from science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Questions for you, the reader:

  • In what area of life are you a “master”?
  • Have you developed other areas of interest? Name them.
  • Are you curious about life? Do you want to pursue broad knowledge?
  • Identify an area of your life in which you need to say, “I’ve gone deep enough.”

Go deep and broad.

I’ve written other essays that relate to this topic:

Question: What do you think about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What? – In life, strive for both depth and breadth; you don’t need to choose one or the other.
So what? – Your life will be more enjoyable and you’ll be better able to contribute to society if you develop multiple interests.
Now what? – Audit your life and decide how deep you want to go in each major area. Begin pursuing more areas of interest.

Do what matters



It’s more important to fail at something that matters than to succeed at something that doesn’t. —Regina Dugan


Ms. Dugan packs a lot of wisdom into this one sentence. I remember the first time I read it; my wife, Mary, and I discussed it over dinner, and then I meditated on the sentence until it found a place in my mind.

Here are my most recent thoughts.

Define what matters to you.

Place all your activities and actions into one of two broad categories: things that matter and things that don’t. The only category you need to define is the first category—things that matter; by default everything else falls into the second category. Your list of things that matter will be personal and finite; there is no limit to the number of things that don’t matter.

Your things-that-matter list may include things you don’t enjoy doing, but must do. For example, there may be aspects of your job that are unsavory, but if you want to stay gainfully employed, they must be prioritized.

This list may also include mundane activities that serve a higher purpose. For instance, I exercise three times a week, once to exhaustion. I don’t enjoy working out, but it keeps my body in shape so it will enhance, and not hinder, the activity of my mind. (Einstein once said that the only purpose of our body is to carry our brain around.)

But most of the entries on your things-that-matter list will be things that you value—quality-of-life issues.

Prioritize what matters.

An unexamined and undisciplined life will inevitably drift toward the unimportant so we must focus and prioritize our actions. Priorities are defined destinations—everything else is just infinite space. Think of it this way: a ship in the ocean can meaninglessly drift in an unlimited number of directions but will only reach a specific destination when directed.

A life without priorities is like a ship without a rudder.

When pursuing what matters, allow for failure.

View failures as both unavoidable and acceptable. Management consultants Pfeffer and Sutton said, “Setbacks and mistakes should be viewed as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being action oriented. The only true failure is to stop trying new things and to stop learning from the last effort to turn knowledge into action.”

If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never move beyond your safe zone; you’ll never leave sight of the shoreline for the vast ocean. Instead of thinking, “Failure is not an option,” think, “Failure is an option, and there’s a good probability that it will happen.”

When you fail, look for causes, not excuses. Analyze what happened, identify causes, learn, and adjust.

Although failure is a natural byproduct of living an aggressive life, never be cavalier about failure and don’t romanticize it. Failure is not acceptable if it is the result of slothfulness, poor planning, or poor execution.

When pursuing what matters, incremental progress is profitable even if you don’t reach the ultimate goal. For instance, if your goal is to get a degree in anthropology, every course you take toward the degree is profitable, even if you fall short of finishing.

It’s okay to fail at something that matters.

Don’t be beguiled by meaningless success.

Some things masquerade as success but are not. That is, actions are not equivalent to results; being busy is not commensurate with productivity.

When you succeed at things that don’t really matter, you can develop a false sense of wellbeing and accomplishment. A quarterback can post impressive statistics—passes completed, no interceptions, total passing yardage—but still lose the game.

For the past 40 years I have used the week between Christmas and New Years to plan for the upcoming 12 months. I evaluate where I am in life, make course corrections, and decide what my plans and goal will be for the new year. I define what matters and how I will pursue it. I encourage you to do the same.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What?– It’s more important to fail at something that matters than to succeed at something that doesn’t.
So what? – Analyze all your efforts and make sure you are focused on priorities.
Now what? – Analyze your failures and successes and make sure both are related to important matters.

Upgrade your conversations

conversations3.001Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud. —Hermann Hesse

Do you ever track conversations?

I do.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t, because I find most conversations are unbalanced, trivial, and forgettable.

Try it yourself. The next time you’re part of a group conversation, mentally keep track of who speaks, for how long, and the topics that are discussed.

In previous posts I have discussed the importance of listening and having a balanced conversation.

In this post let’s consider what we talk about. Consider these five categories, listed from shallow to significant.

1. Pleasantries—weather, sports, etc.

We usually start conversations with inconsequential remarks, and that’s okay; it’s a courteous and subtle way to start. But let’s not stay there long. Polite conversation should be a prelude to more important topics.

2. Physical and emotional issues

How are you feeling, physically? It’s not necessary to discuss details about your recent trip to the doctor’s office and don’t elaborate on your medications; just summarize. Also, share how you’re feeling emotionally, but don’t belabor the issue, particularly if not much has changed since the last time we talked.

3. Projects

What’s going on in your life right now? What projects are you working on? What are your plans for the near future? People who are fully engaged in life are always working on projects; they are excited about getting something accomplished.

4. Current events

What do you think about the latest events in North Korea? Isn’t it fascinating that the New Horizons satellite recently flew by Pluto? Observing current events, and developing an opinion about them, makes for interesting conversation. But don’t just regurgitate facts about events; have an informed opinion about them.

Incidentally, all current events are not equal in significance. Discussing an article from US Magazine, watching Hollywood Now, or keeping up with Kim Kardashian is not the same as discussing political ideologies or advances in science.

5. Significant thoughts

This is the sweet spot; this is where we need to land and linger. Let’s discuss interesting and challenging ideas that address important issues. Let’s consider them conceptually and then apply them personally.

For instance, these questions might prompt interesting conversation:

  • What’s the most interesting book you’ve read lately, and what did you learn from it?
  • What do you think about this statement made by Thomas Jefferson: “Pursue truth no matter where it may lead you”?
  • Do you agree with this statement by Federico Fellini: “I want to live so that my life cannot be ruined by a single phone call.”?
  • What does it mean to be diligent?
  • Why was the 1913 premier of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring so controversial? What are some current controversial issues that may someday be benign?

Most conversations never get to this deep level unless someone intentionally directs them there. It takes courage and a bit of presumption to orchestrate a conversation, but without direction most conversations drift into pablum and stay there. I double-dog dare you: next time you’re part of a lengthy conversation (15-30 minutes), introduce a significant topic and see what happens.

Interestingly, meaningful conversations are not restricted to, or guaranteed by, long-term relationships. I’ve had deeper conversations with strangers on an airplane than with some people I’ve known for decades.

I long for friends and colleagues that value deep conversations.

What? – Often, our conversations center on trivial topics. We should spend more time talking about significant issues.
So what? – Be more aware of your conversations, and when possible, steer the conversation toward meaningful topics.
Now what? – Upgrade your conversations to include the discussion of ideas.