What are the top five things you’re good at? What about the top five things you’re bad at? If you listed them out, which list would take you longer to write? I’ll start.
Things I’m Good At: listening to people when they talk, analyzing a situation honestly, supporting the people around me, telling a story, making margaritas. That took about 45 seconds to list.
Things I’m Bad At: articulating my point verbally, practicing my hobbies, managing spontaneous behavior, making plans in advance, all of math. That took a full two minutes to list.
If you’re like most people, and most businesses, you can probably name what you’re good at a lot faster (and more specifically) than what you’re bad at. And no, it’s not because you’re a raging narcissist. Or at least, not entirely because of that. I don’t know your life.
It’s more likely due to the fact that you don’t think about what you’re bad at nearly as often. It’s not fun to think about all the ways in which you suck. But the truth is, what you’re not is just as important as what you are when you’re describing or selling yourself to a client or a business.
Let’s talk about Drake for a second.
He is arguably the biggest artist in the world right now. If you’re making a list of the biggest pop stars in the world, the top three would be some variation of Drake, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Album sales, tours, awards won and just general name recognition from the public put these three in a class above everyone else. They are the most popular artists right now.
And Beyonce and Swift both have awards from the pop category. Beyonce is no longer an R&B star and Swift doesn’t win country awards anymore. But every time Drake is nominated for an award, he’s put in the hip hop category. Every time he’s talked about, he’s talked about in the context of hip hop artists. But it’s not who he is anymore.
I’m not trying to erase his hip hop roots. In fact, I think it’s incredible that a hip hop artist is one of the most recognizable musicians we have in our culture right now and I’d give everyone a high five except Trump got elected, so I’m still mad at most of you.
The point I am trying to make, however, is that there are some elements of hip hop that Drake is bad at. And if you consider the standards of hip hop artists, Drake shouldn’t be winning awards for hip hop.
He’s notorious for not writing his own lyrics. He rarely engages in rap battles unless he’s positive he can win — a smart move for a pop star but an embarrassment for a hip hop star. And, he rarely reveals anything about himself, certainly not in his recent albums.
When you think about why the most iconic hip hop songs are so important to fans it’s because of how much truth they reveal about that artist or the time that it was released. From Fuck the Police and Juicy to Cleaning Out My Closet and 99 Problems, these are all songs that tell you exactly what that artist thought and felt about a particular time in their life.
On the other hand, One Dance doesn’t tell you anything. It’s about as deep as I Want It That Way. Both incredible popular songs, but mean absolutely nothing. One Dance is a bad hip hop song but an excellent pop song. Give it every pop award there is, just don’t give it a hip hop honor.
I get that music categories are relatively arbitrary and maybe unimportant. Except that it’s really not when you think about the impact it could have on future generations of rappers. Calling Drake hip hop instead of pop sets a standard for the rest of the artists in the hip hop category that could effectively change it into “rhythmic pop” if we aren’t careful. We can’t afford to lose the social commentary of A Tribe Called Quest for more songs about Rihanna. As much as I love her, we just can’t.
And music is just one example. Misrepresentation is happening in business too.
Facebook is an excellent social media platform. If they only considered themselves as a social sharing website, everything would be great. But Facebook also calls itself a publisher. And while it does publish pieces of content, thus meeting the minimum requirement for calling yourself a publisher, it does a shockingly terrible job at it.
It publishes and promotes fake news stories constantly, rarely catches pirated content that has been lifted from other sites (mainly YouTube), and makes its money by routinely showing users more of the same instead of an objective view of the facts. If every publisher acted the way that Facebook does, we’d be well into the World War Teens by now. I wish I was trying to exaggerate.
Again, the problem is not that Facebook calls itself a publisher — it’s that Facebook doesn’t act like a publisher. In the same way Drake doesn’t act like a hip hop artist. If you call yourself a developer and can’t create a website for mobile or make a page work for every browser, you’re dragging down the entire community.
I’m not trying discourage growth and expanding your talents and audience. By all means, if you’re a photographer who can also design circles around your peers, let the people know. Raise the bar for yourself. But you can’t call yourself a designer just because you know the bare minimum about the rule of thirds.
You have to be honest with yourself about the things you can’t do because it isn’t just you or your clients that you’re affecting every time you drop the ball. If you’re doing more harm than good, it might be time to change the category you put yourself in. Or it might be time to get to work and make yourself better. You can decide that for yourself.