Self-Awareness, The Greatest Virtue

There is a lot of money to be made off of people that can’t accurately assess what they’re good at. Half of the reason anybody bothered to watch American Idol (RIP) was for the unending streams of morons whose “singing” was eerily similar to what I imagine a cat being waterboarded would sound like.

But almost none of those people (at least that aired) were attempting to real-life troll the judges. They all thought they were legitimately good singers who’d just never been given a chance to bless the world with their gifts.

For example, here is a video of some terrible singers throughout the years. You’re welcome.

Granted, the video also appears to be making fun of people who look funny, which isn’t really fair, but note how none of the contestants think they’re awful. Well, maybe that last guy knows something we don’t (like where he hid all the bodies). Some offer excuses, “I have no training in singing,” and some just flat-out claim the judges are wrong, as if the judges were stunned into confusion by the contestant’s beautiful throat noises.

But how is that possible?

I can’t imagine there was a single person in the world who saw one of those auditions live and yelled out, “Honey, come look! It’s Beyonce in a nerdy white man’s body. I’ll never view music in the same way again! I’ve been touched in my earhole by a gently-swaying angel,” only to be dumbfounded when the judges disagree.

Oh, and here’s the thing, it’s not like the people walk straight off the street and in front of a judge. The judges don’t have time for that many hopefuls. Before they sing for the judges, they sing in front of some producers who decide whether to let them go through. They either get legitimately talented singers, or people who sing like they’re possessed by The Exorcist demon. Contestants know if they’re pushed through that they’re either incredible or godawful. And yet, somehow, they assume they’re the former.

This is an exceptionally long intro to get to my thesis which is, self-awareness matters. It matters a lot. I’d go so far as to say it’s a virtue because of how it affects other people in your life. Allow me to explain. (Or, if you’re bored, click this link. It’s hilarious.)

The reason those contestants are willing to submit to this sort of verbal abuse is because they have no capacity for accurately assessing their abilities. This may seem painfully, deafeningly obvious, but this sort of failure is something we all need to contend with.

One of the most valuable things a person can have is a thorough understanding of their abilities. I, for example, am not a very good singer. Because I know this, you will never see me on American Idol or any other singing show that still exists. And yet, despite that, I’ve been hired by two separate churches to be their music director which required singing in front of people in such a way as to not make them want to die.

How does that work?

Well, firstly, since I know that I suck at singing, I did everything I could to improve as a vocalist. I took voice lessons, I did vocal exercises, practiced all the time, and studied Creed albums until I nailed the perfect way to belt, “Yee-yeah!”

I also knew the things I was good at, namely playing electric guitar and marrying a woman who has the voice of an angel. As such, I built song arrangements around exciting musical elements and feature my wife’s voice more often than mine. I’d beg her to sing harmonies in every spot that made sense, in the hope that some of her sweetness would spill over onto my warbling baritone. Basically, I worked to strengthen the things I sucked at and highlight the things I was good at. I made it work because I knew what I was bad at, and I worked around it.

And this doesn’t just apply to jobs and stuff. It can even work interpersonally. For example, I believe it is very important to tell stories well. I don’t just mean that whenever we set out to write a fantasy novel we should be sure to include myriad descriptions of blood dripping from broadswords, I mean when we talk to each other. To me, there’s nothing more disheartening than realizing the story I’m about to hear is going to include every single detail.

When talking to real people about your life or your day, there’s no reason to mention the entire family history of your barista if the real story was that you spilled coffee all over Jack Nicholson, and he bit off one of your fingers. That has the potential to be an incredible story, but if you spend five minutes mentioning how Jeff the barista has like the best forearm tattoo and just a real love for the coffee culture, you’re going to lose people’s interest.

None of this is a sin or anything, but the deeper you go, the more valuable this stuff can become. For example, I know that I tend to get angry quickly. Always have. My dog will bark and scare me and I’ll just flip out and want to punch a hole in a wall with my face. This quick trigger can cause me to be irrationally upset when having arguments with my wife, for example. The more that I’m aware of this, the better I’m able to recognize it and deal with it. If I thought, for example, that all of my anger was justified because I was just so darn correct all the time, I’d be even more of a pain to live with.

Knowing that my anger is often irrational allows me to be on the lookout for it. To hopefully deal with it.

So what causes this sort of stuff? Why don’t we just know what’s wrong with us inherently? Well, it’s because we don’t ask people.

I can almost guarantee that those American Idol contestants had somebody (a parent, a friend, a jilted former lover seeking revenge) tell them they were a good singer. In trying to be kind and helpful, those encouragers end up giving those people a false sense of identity. Instead of working on improving their math skills or learning to paint, they decided to take their dream of singing to the big stage and were made fun of by millions and millions of people.

We objectively suck at taking stock of our own abilities. That’s why we need to surround ourselves with people who are willing to hold us accountable and honestly tell us the things we are good and bad at. Every morning when I wake up my wife tells me I suck at singing just in case I forgot during some beautiful dream, but she’ll also let me know when I’m improving. She won’t let me get away with irrational anger, but she’ll compliment me on my poop jokes.

As far as I can tell, this is making me a better, more competent man and human being. One of my dad’s friends once said that without marriage (or good, honest friends) we end up becoming too much like ourselves. Our worst parts of ourselves grow unchecked and our flaws become magnified. As we grow in self-awareness (thanks to others), we learn what weaknesses need work, and what strengths need honing. We also just become straight-up more bearable to be around.

This is all easier said than done, obviously, but self-awareness is a virtue. Get some.

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