This week I learned a lesson that many of you probably know (I probably did too but didn’t practice). It’s fairly simple – if you are good at something and are willing to put practice into it, get sound coaching/teaching in the skill, and find ways to share your skill then you can get even better.
Easy, right? No – it is simple, but not easy. At least not for me. I am the type of person who likes to try all sorts of new things. I’m generally able to pick up on a new skill or activity pretty quickly and do it well enough to survive and have fun. If you’re wired like me then you might also have rock climbing gear, kayaks, really nice mountain bikes, a banjo, lots of fancy pots and pans, specialty shoes for all sorts of things, a whole lot of high end camping gear, a kitchen full of cast iron pots, cookbooks galore, computer programs for design, high end stationary, dress clothes for every occasion, a wine fridge, niche magazine subscriptions, and reams of photos from all of the cool places you’ve been and explored.
But are you REALLY GOOD at anything or just “well rounded?”
For the past 4 months, I’ve been participating in an event called SEED20, a program put on by Social Venture Partners of Charlotte that culminates in a pitch by 10 non-profits on stage in front of a bunch of venture philanthropists interested in investing in non-profits in Charlotte that are innovative and sustainable. I was honored to be selected to even participate in this and even more honored to be selected as one of the 10 finalists.
Due to the quarantines caused by the Coronavirus, this year’s pitches didn’t get to happen on stage in front of a thousand people. Instead, we had to film them in our own homes (see picture above of my filming session). I was bummed about this; upset actually. But then I started to reflect on the entire process, not just the unfortunate circumstances around the finale. And in that moment of reflection I realized…
The PROCESS of getting better at something I was already good at was really what was important. You see, I’ve always fancied myself a good public speaker. I don’t really get nervous in front of crowds and I have always felt that I could connect with an audience. So when I started this process, I thought I was in a pretty good place and really wondered what I could learn. But the day before the first training session a friend, Wendy Hickey, who had been through the program with her non-profit, ArtPop, gave me a piece of advice – “Be open to the coaching, you’ll be amazed at how much they can help you improve.” I was skeptical, but tried very hard to take her advice.
Going into the second coaching session we had to prepare and deliver our first pitch. I spent time thoughtfully writing it out and practiced hard to make sure I could deliver it without notes. I practiced in front of my staff and my family and they seemed to like it. I felt pretty good going in. And I got ripped apart. It was too long, rambling, no real substance, don’t see the innovation, lots of irrelevant information, not interesting, unimpressive. These were some of the comments I got. Holy smokes!
I decided that night I was going to be not only open to that coaching but was going to use it as a motivator to get better. I decided to take something I knew I was good at and get better. I dedicated several hours each week to writing and re-writing my pitch, each time sending it to my coaches for critique and changes. I asked them to come visit us and spend time with me so that they could help me express what we were really about as an organization clearly. And I put in the practice. I recorded myself and watched it, making changes each time. I practiced in the shower and in the car and in my yard talking to no one.
And I got better. Each coaching session the comments got more positive and my communication and presentation skills improved. I was chosen to be a finalist and my confidence was growing. Tuesday night when the final virtual pitch competition aired, I saw how much I had improved. And it felt good to know that I had worked at something I was already good at and got better. I knew that the final version would connect with people and communicate our message.
So if you’re anything like me, you’re sitting at home a lot doing your part social distancing and thinking about all the new things you want to try with this free time. Go ahead and join that virtual yoga class and see what it’s like. Get those project materials and make that planter box you’ve seen on Pinterest. Or order the supplies and take up hand lettering. Those will all be fun. But take some time too to get really good at something you already do well. Get your 5k time down by a minute. Make that really amazing dish you’ve always dreamed of. Or go from being a guitar player to a potential performer. You will be amazed at how good it feels to practice, take some instruction, and really improve at something you already think you’re good at. You can always improve.