How Do We Know We Are Good at Something?


By Omar Cherif
How Do We Know We Are Good at Something? How do we know we are good at something? I recently started asking myself this question. Does one's feeling or knowing of being good at a specific activity comes from within, or do we have to compare with others to find out?

The reason why this has been on my mind is that I noted that whenever I'm repeatedly told that I'm good at a certain activity which I enjoy doing, I tend to believe it. However, before I am told, I'm not so sure if I know that I am good, or say, average.

The dilemma here is that as an adult I advocate not comparing with others. I also believe that competitiveness is an ego-driven disease that drives us away from our higher self. Therefore I found myself compelled to reflect further on the matter. As I wrote these lines, I still have no definite answer to this question. All I have as reference are my own experiences which I will use here as examples, a bit of psychology, and a sole chitchat with my bungalow mate — a 43-year-old cool American photographer named Bret.

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When I was younger and playing basketball and ping pong, what made me know I'm good is that I would often beat others. I also made it to the teams and won some medals and trophies. Those were activities I enjoyed doing whether I won or lost. But, were the competition and the winning — and consequently, the comparing — the reasons how I knew I was a good? And if yes, were they the only reasons?

Later in life, I can say the same with other activities like writing and drumming. If I were living on an island or in a cave by myself, and I did enjoy the act of writing and drumming, would I know if I'm a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ writer/drummer if there were no one to tell me so? Is it possible to evaluate oneself without comparing with the average or even with a few others?

For writing, I always found it to be therapeutic. However, before the Internet daze and the social media I only wrote to myself. When I started sharing my writings in ‘notes' on Facebook and received positive, encouraging comments, I began to believe in my ability. I knew from before that I could articulate my thoughts well and know how to communicate, but I think the responses coming from others are what reinforced this internal belief.

When I kept going with the writing and published my work, I received more comments and private messages from strangers complementing me on a certain piece they had read or on any other thing. This repetition of affirmation has again further reinforced my belief. Naturally, it gave me a healthy dose of faith and confidence needed to carry on with a different life path such as writing.

Even though I would still write and drum if I had received negative comments but maybe I would not have possessed the same enthusiasm that may be needed to keep going.

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BòóM BôöM

As for drumming, which is my most recent hobby, I also enjoyed it since school days. I owned a few drums but, again, I mainly played to myself and consequently never really knew how good or average I was…compared to other drummers. When I had to chance to go to the mesmerizing Venice Beach Drum Circle and play, I noticed how people looked at me, so I assumed that maybe they like what they see. Some onlookers even filmed me. Why would they film what they don't consider good, I wondered to myself.

A couple of weeks ago, a cute black man in his 70s was attending the Sunday circle. We were early so we jammed for a while by the boardwalk before heading into the sand where the event usually takes place. The man was carrying a heavy wheeled cart with some music instrument so I offered to help.

How long have you been playing? He asks me as we walked side by side towards the water.

I loved to drum all my life so at school I would use the desks and benches. Later I got bongos and a darbuka (tabla), but the djèmbe is what I connected with the most.

Smiling, he said: “From the moment you put your hands on that drum, I knew you were a player. You know what you do? You count. Most people just play.

Hm. I have thought about that before because I ‘caught’ myself doing it. My hands actually follow a certain beat coming from within. I don't sit there and count the beats, but apparently my mind does it naturally — almost unconsciously, sometimes for as long as 16 and 32 beats that I repeat in cycles. In smaller circles, the cycle often becomes the main beat since it's usually the longest and the more consistent. This, I found out with time as well as from observing — “comparing with” — others, is not the usual as explained in the following excerpt from the exceptionally thorough djembé Wikipedia page:

The most common cycle length is four beats, but cycles often have other lengths, such as two, three, six, eight or more beats. Some rhythms in the Dundunba family from the Hamana region in Guinea have cycle lengths of 16, 24, 28, or 32 beats, among others.

I find this observation interesting because even though drumming isn't new to me, but djmèbes are. In those last few months, I may have only played about 20 times, for a few hours each time. What's the mystery of these unusual 16 and 32 beat-cycles, where did they originate from? Perhaps in a past life I was a member of the Dundunba family from the Hamana region in Guinea.

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According to the Social Comparison Theory, individuals are driven to gain accurate self-evaluations. The theory states that people evaluate their own beliefs, opinions, attitudes and abilities by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these domains. In most cases, we seek to compare with someone against whom we believe we should have reasonable similarity. In the absence of such a person — the benchmark — almost anyone could be used.

People also compare with others to learn how to define their own selves.




About the Author:

Omar Cherif Omar Cherif is a trilingual writer and researcher, photographer and blogger with degrees in journalism, psychology, and philosophy. After working in the corporate world for ten years, he took writing as a vocation and is currently finalizing his first book about dreams, the subconscious mind and spirituality among other topics.

You can follow Omar on here:
One Lucky Soul

And you can find more of his work on his blog and on Flickr:
One Lucky Soul

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