The Most Important Self Development Skill of All

Be Prepared When Your Big Moment Arrives.

Jathan Maricelli
Jun 23, 2017 · 7 min read
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Credit: Cluttersnap — Unsplash

Are you discouraged by how long it’s taking you to get to the top?

Does it seem like everyone else is passing you up?

Do you envy the rapid ascent of others in your field?

If so, you’ve probably begun to doubt yourself.

After all, if you had the goods, you would be farther along…like all of those other talented, well-connected people.

By the time you finish scrolling through your social media feed, you’re cursing yourself for ever being foolish enough to think you could do this.

The only thing left for you to do now is quit.

Don’t quit.

But you should take a break from social media break in order to focus on you.

You need to become a master at evaluating your own ability.

To do so will requires you to zero in on your skill level, your process, and your pace.

Then, don’t apologize for it.

Gradually growing your skills is not a mark of failure or an indication of a talent deficit.

In fact, a deliberate career ascent is often a gift to you, your followers, and your future.

It sure was for one of America’s most revered generals.

“Please don’t promote me, Mr. President.”

In Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday recounts General William Tecumseh Sherman’s unique journey to becoming one of the greatest in his field.

Sherman is widely known for his March to the Sea. His bold move to operate in enemy territory with no supply lines is noted as one of the greatest achievements of the Civil War, if not American military history.

A great campaign by a great tactician.

But Sherman’s greatest tactic had nothing to do with his command of Union soldiers. It had to do with his command of himself.

To understand Sherman’s philosophy on maturation and personal growth, one has to look no further than the time he asked President Abraham Lincoln to NOT promote him.

Holiday explains.

“Benefiting from a dire shortage of leadership, Sherman was promoted to brigadier general and was summoned to meet with President Lincoln and his top military adviser.

On several occasions, Sherman freely strategized and planned with the president, but at the end of his trip, he made a strange request; he’d accept his new promotion only with the assurance that he’d not have to assume superior command.”

To say, I’m not ready, is practically unheard of in the ranks of the ambitious. Yet it can be the very thing that enables you to maximize your development.

This is so because while being put in a position that is too big for you may sometimes stimulate your growth, more often than not it wrecks your future.

It did so for former NFL quarterback David Carr.

Not Ready for Prime Time

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Photo Credit — Getty Images

Coming out of Fresno State, no quarterback in the 2002 NFL draft was tapped with more potential than David Carr. As a result, the Houston Texans drafted him as the #1 overall pick.

Sadly, Carr’s promising career was doomed before it ever got started.

The reason…he was promoted before he was ready.

Here’s the story.

In 2002, the Texans were an expansion team in their first year of NFL existence.

As such, they had many deficiencies in their roster. Their offensive life was the weakest position on the entire team. (The offensive line is responsible for keeping the huge, ferocious, defenders from sacking -tackling behind the line of scrimmage- the quarterback.)

Therefore, it was a given that whoever played QB for the Texans was going to get relentlessly hit, harried, and hurried.

The Texans’ brass had a decision to make. Should they place the battle-tested, yet less gifted veteran QB Tony Banks in this volatile situation, or throw the promising yet inexperienced rookie to the wolves and let him figure it out?

Unfortunately for Carr, the Texans chose the latter

Practically every time Carr dropped back to pass, defenders were in his face. They knocked the ball out of his hands, bruised his ribs, and blocked his passing lanes.

This constant chaos and confusion made it impossible for Carr’s raw talent to develop and mature into that of a professional NFL quarterback.

He was robbed of the opportunity to level up.

The only records Carr went on to set were dubious ones.

In only five years with the Texans he was sacked 249 times.

To put that into perspective, Tom Brady has only been sacked 417 times in his entire sixteen-year career with the New England Patriots.

When Carr was fired by the Texans, an evaluator with the team lamented, “He was a shell the player who first came into the league.”

Carr’s shattered confidence never returned and he spent the rest of his career as a bench-warmer and a cautionary tale of what can happen when one is promoted to a position too big for him or her.

Post mortem analysis of the failed phenom suggests that the Texans’ decision makers should have taken their time with the young prospect. They should have set up a time-frame that allowed for an adequate roster to be built around the burgeoning player. Carr should have been given at least a full season just to learn the playbook and gain gradual experience.

The Texans didn’t do this because they were in a hurry.

This begs the question: Why are we in such a hurry to get to the top?

One reason is our naive viewpoint of what promotion actually is.

The Problem with Promotion

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Credit: Pixabay

At face value, promotion appears to be this must-have life-booster. After all, promotion comes with an increase in power, money, and prestige. What could possibly be better?

A closer look at the implications of promotion reveals another side altogether.

Despite its positive trappings, promotion also brings with it more responsibility, more problems, and more fallout from poor decisions.

These heightened stakes demand of us greater skill, more authority, and sound judgment born out of experience.

If we are exalted before our time such an increased weight can crush us.

Sherman knew this and took measures to prevent it.

Holiday explains.

“At this point in time, Sherman felt more comfortable as a number two. He felt he had an honest appreciation for his own abilities and that this role best suited him.”

“Imagine that — an ambitious person turning down a chance to advance in responsibility because he actually wanted to be ready for them.”

This career-defining deferral of responsibility was only made possible because Sherman knew how good he was. More importantly, he knew how good he was’t.

We can‘t put ourselves in the best position to grow without first accurately assessing what we lack.

This is why Holiday said, “One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all.

How well do you know yourself?

Instead of chasing promotion, are you diligently preparing yourself to meet the demands of promotion when it arrives?

You should be.

And this type of preparation takes time.

However, this is not to say that you’re never going to step up, be aggressive, and take that big risk.

Being reluctant to take on a challenge isn’t the same thing as being tentative, unmotivated, and cowardly.

When your time comes, you’ll step up.

Just like Sherman.

Delivering in the Big Moment

Holiday continues.

“Building on his successes, Sherman began to advocate for his famous March to the Sea — a strategically bold and audacious plan, not born out of some creative genius but rather relying on the exact topography he had scouted and studied as a young officer in what had then seemed like a pointless backwater outpost.”

“Where Sherman had once been cautious, he was now confident. But unlike so many others who possess great ambition, he earned this opinion.

Although Sherman was once reluctant to take on the full weight of superior command, when fully matured, he was quite the opposite.

The result?

When his big moment arrived, Sherman leveled up and made history because he had prepared himself to do so.


How are you preparing for your big moment?

Take some time to visualize what it would be like for it to arrive? What will be required of you? Who will be looking to you?

With this image in mind, do everything you can to prepare yourself to meet that moment with full force.

Along the way, don’t get discouraged by the rapid ascent of others.

Instead, shut out the noise and laser focus on your situation, your ability, and your preparation process.

Then work your process. No matter how long it takes.

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Originally published at on June 23, 2017.

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