It was mid-summer and I'd been riding for a good two months. In early spring, I had taken up the new-to-me sport of mountain
biking, learning the basics from an experienced friend then getting out there and hitting the trails as soon as the snow melted. Beginner trails...easy, rambling, single-track paths that cut through scenic groves of aspen, across meadows, and into deep mountain forests, with very few inclines or technical spots to maneuver through. But I didn't notice -- I as having so much fun I kind of missed the fact there were differing levels of trails. I so enjoyed the breathtaking views and healthy 'burn' in my legs from pedaling for an hour at a time. I was feeling like a rock star navigating these routes with ease. So, I did what any brand-new rider would do (not): I registered for the Winter Park Mountain Bike race series.
The first race of the series was an altitude ride, starting at 8500 feet, approximately 10 miles long with an elevation gain of 2500 feet. I had a decent bicycle, a hard tail, but one that was much more lightweight than my previous hand-me-down bike, and with my thrift store biking shorts and colorful, sleeveless top with pockets in the back, I felt well-prepared for the competition. Water -- check. New cleats on my shoes -- check. Energy snacks in pocket -- check. There was a chill in the air on morning of the race, and I couldn't tell if it was from the cool temperatures at elevation or from the pre-race jitters. I was excited to be a part of the athletic, well-toned crowd of participants that gathered at the start, giddy that I'd so quickly become a mountain biker!
The starting gun exploded, and we were off. The first 50 yards were uphill, and within minutes my legs were weak, my lungs were screaming, and I found myself immediately falling to the back of the several hundred women riders. Huh? I'd been training...!? And in the back is where I stayed. Within the first couple of miles, I was exhausted, mentally and physically, a jumble of embarrassment, fear that I might not be able to finish, and sheer physical fatigue. I fought off the cry-feeling as I struggled to tackle the steep hill climbs, the rocky, uneven paths, the stream crossings, and the lack-of-oxygen at elevation. I wrecked. I wrecked again. A woman who looked to be well over 80 years of age whizzed by me, as did a young girl with a pink dinosaur helmet. I lost one of my cleats which enabled one of my furiously-pedaling feet to fly off the pedal each time I hit a bump -- which was every few seconds. I couldn't help but have the "da da da, da da, da" tune spinning 'round in my head, visualizing the Wicked Witch of the West pedaling through the tornado on her old bicycle. On one sharp corner, I sailed right off the trail, landing in a tangle of brambles. As I attempted to climb one particular hill, I came to a complete stop and had to walk my bike the rest of the way. I got stuck in the muck of the water crossings and even did an "end-o" when I hit a large rock square on, landing flat on my back, knocking the wind out of me, as the few riders behind me quickly swerved to not run me over. It was obvious: I was in way over my head. My leg was bleeding, my fingers ached from my death-like grip on the handlebars, and my mental well-being was, well, not so well. I was completely overwhelmed. As I passed one of the last water stations, I could hear the volunteer deliver a static message on the walkie-talkie as they started packing up the table: "That's the last one". Wow. Last place. Me -- last? I never get last place! This thought again triggered the cry-feeling. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw the arch of the finish line ahead, glistening like the Emerald City. Very few spectators were left, as the riders they were cheering on had finished long before me. I crossed over the chalked white line, lay down my bike, collapsed in the grass, and cried.
Accurate self-assessment is a competency of emotional intelligence. It's that inner awareness of our strengths and limitations, an ability to discern what we can and can't do. People who have it have a good clue what they can accomplish -- and what they cannot. They tend to be reflective and learn from past experiences. They are aware of their surroundings and where they fit in.
It's something that was absent before my race, and very present at the end.
In her book Insight, Tasha Eurich makes a surprising finding after conducting a series of surveys: "95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are." And the causes of this 'miss'? Blind spots (those hidden areas where we need to grow), the ‘feel-good effect’ (we feel better when we see ourselves positively and ignore our faults), and what she calls ‘cult of self’, which is our tendency to be self-absorbed. (https://www.amazon.com/Insight-Surprising-Others-Ourselves-Answers/dp/0525573941/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534976016&sr=8-1&keywords=tasha+eurich+insight)
Regarding my mountain biking skills, prior to the race, I was obviously NOT in the 10-15 percentile. I missed. Badly. And I reaped the consequences. The humiliation and absolute, overwhelming exhaustion I experienced, not to mention how sore I was for the following week from the bumps and bruises on both my body and my ego, served as a healthy reminder of my lack of accurate self-assessment.
Where do you fall in that percentage? Are you truly self-aware of your strengths and limitations?
There are some indicators in those who struggle with this competency. They tend to want to appear right in the eyes of others and compete instead of cooperate. Teamwork and collaboration skills may be low (one of the areas I struggle with!). They often won't ask for help and exaggerate their own contributions and efforts. Those that are low in this emotional intelligence competency often set unrealistic, overly ambitions, unattainable goals, and push themselves hard, at the expense of other important aspects of their lives. Sound familiar? I see it now. I had no business entering that race -- but at the time my over-inflated view of my skills and abilities took precedence.
"Because your brain uses information from the areas around the blind spot to make a reasonable guess about what the blind spot would see if only it weren't blind, and then your brain fills in the scene with this information. That's right, it invents things, creates things, makes stuff up!" -- Daniel Gilbert
Hopefully your ability to accurately self-assess will provide valuable insight that prevents you from entering a mountain bike race that's beyond your capability. But you may notice it crop up from time to time in other areas of your life. Maybe you commit to spending more hours on a project than you actually have. Maybe you catch yourself bragging on an accomplishment, so you look good, or are caught embellishing stories to make them sound more grandiose. Maybe...you fill in the blank. Most likely, after the fact, you'll realize where you missed. And if you don't, someone will probably let you know.
“Who knows, you may be that close. You could be uncovering a blind spot or two away to take your career to the next height...” -- Assegid Habetwold, author of The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks: For Continued Success in Leadership
Is there hope for those of us who struggle with this competency? Of course. We're talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. We often just need a signal, a warning flag, an alarm which goes off when it’s time to make a shift. How to develop this sort of intuition? For starters, try these steps:
- Assess. Consider taking a social + emotional intelligence assessment, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or a 360 multi-rater assessment to learn more about your strengths and areas of growth.
- Learn. Read a book, sign up for a workshop, or enroll in a class to learn new things. Be open to gaining fresh insights and perspectives to develop a mindset of ongoing growth and improvement.
- Ask. Reach out to friends, colleagues, and those close to you for feedback. This is a tough one, especially if you don't like hearing anything negative about yourself. But often the reflections of others are the only way to recognize a blind spot.
- Reflect. Look back on past choices you've made, especially those that caused angst, and journal about what went right and what went wrong.
- Monitor. Observe and watch what others do, when they're successful and when they fall. A Zen proverb says, "It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes, but an even wiser man to learn from others."
It's always a good idea to consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to ensure you make progress as you head down the trail to more accurate self-assessment.
Though simple, these steps may just be what you need to move into the 10-15% of self-aware people in this world. And it may save you from unnecessary bumps and bruises that blind spots can cause -- which some of us were not able to avoid.
“We all have blind spots – those areas for improvement and growth. As painful as it can be to admit we’re doing things we never wanted to do and saying things we never wanted to say, it is this acknowledgement that enables us to take the first step toward change. Be gentle with yourself. Be real with yourself. Take baby steps.” -- Rhonda Louise Robbins