Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favorite thing about yourself.
My instinctive response was that I’m good at self deprecation but that’s not really the point of the exercise.
There are big questions around culture and personality in tackling this prompt. National temperament and natural inclination towards imposter syndrome form part of my reluctance and discomfort in talking about what I’m good at or even taking a compliment.
This starts early, best example being my school years where I was so comically inept and lacking in self esteem that the first time a girl asked me out I angrily refused convinced she would only ask as a bet (teen movies have a LOT to answer for).
Fast forward to now ( resisting the temptation to hit erase on that part on the tape) and see how it plays out at work. Self deprecation while charming in floppy haired romcoms is a liability during an interview.
A disastrous performance where the whole time my brain was screaming SHUT UP convinced me I needed some help. I bizarrely ignored my carefully prepared examples and improvised instead.
I have a mentor to help me develop my career and understand what it is I want and how they can help me get there. Part of that process is becoming comfortable with tooting my horn and recognising not only the things I do well but what is meaningful to me.
It is in the soft places between the professional and personal that I may have found it
All the best revelations emerge from a gruelling vision quest aided by an unhealthy amount of psychedelics or by imbibing a sacred brew. In the absence of a desert and magic potion I had to settle for a cup of black filter coffee (black as midnight on a moonless night) and a grotty staff canteen.
A potent spell of too little sleep, not enough food and a hefty caffeine hit was enough to, if not squeegee my third eye clean, at least give it a wipe.
In the mad flurry of words and a waving of hands and arms to make Matt Smith proud I started to talk of my blogging extracurricular activities. I told them of what I had written, how well people had responded and the shift in focus from the nakedly personal to wider efforts at distilling all The Lancet research series into something more accessible and with personal insight.
It was the sort of moment that should be accompanied by a cartoon light bulb or audible blinking noises.
This was what I was good at. Absorbing information and detail is one thing but being able to find the underlying themes and then present it with a personal and human angle is something else.
It’s this skill that serves as the key to so much. It goes beyond writing and into the root of what interests and motivates me.
The more abstract the problem the less interest I have. It makes me aware of the human side of systems that can sometimes seem alien and remote. When my work is about the personal stories behind the monolithic statistics I’m more enthusiastic and that enthusiasm shows.
It’s through recognising this skill that I can get better at interviews and build confidence more generally. Approaching interviews (and thinking about career goals) as a story telling exercise rather than a starchy, sterile tick-box experience may allow me to become more comfortable with being enthusiastic and open about my achievements and skills rather than burying them under layers of self-defeating self-deprecation.