There's hope in the chaos.
There's hope in the chaos.
March 28, 2017

The Fastest Way to Grow in Your Gifts

At 17 years old, I was captain of my soccer team and very confident in my skills. But when I attended a soccer camp at the University of Mississippi the summer before my senior year of high school, all of that changed....

The Fastest Way to Grow in Your Gifts

At 17 years old, I was captain of my soccer team and very confident in my skills. But when I attended a soccer camp at the University of Mississippi the summer before my senior year of high school, all of that changed.

I quickly discovered on the first day that the majority of my fellow campers were from nearby Memphis schools with incredible soccer programs.

These girls had been playing soccer since they could walk, and most of them were competing nationally on travel teams.

Me? I had never even thought about playing soccer until middle school, and even when I tried out, I was cut. When I got to high school, I tried out again and luckily made the team. (Turns out the high school program let anyone on the team.)


Photo courtesy of 2001 Overton High School Yearbook

With a little practice, I had picked up the sport naturally and began performing at or above the level of the other girls on my team. But I had no idea how severely lacking my skills were until I was challenged by some of the best high school players in the South.

Camp was exhausting. We had three-a-day practices, hours of drills and constant one-on-one matchups. In every possible scenario, I couldn’t keep up.

These girls ran circles around me and I began to look and feel like I had never touched a soccer ball in my life. In a week’s time, I went from being one of the best players on my team to the last girl picked for scrimmages.

I stuck it out but the week totally killed my confidence. And at times, I was flat-out humiliated. I left physically and emotionally exhausted.

But something unexpected happened when I returned home.

I performed at our first team practice like a completely different soccer player. My coach and teammates noticed it too. I dominated the drills and controlled the ball with ease.

I scored more goals that season than my previous three years combined. And my team won more games than we had in years. Because of how much I had improved, I was stronger and my whole team was stronger.

Related: How to Realize Your Potential

This improvement wasn’t an accident. I was better because of the time I spent working with and learning from players who were much better than me. 

And that happens in business and in life also.

While it’s easy to be the big fish in a small pond, growth doesn’t happen there. If we want to grow and truly become better in our gifts, we have to work with and learn from people who are better than us. We have to surround ourselves with women and leaders who are stronger than we are.

Yes, it’s a humbling experience. But when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll return like I did—a completely different person, a better leader. There’s no better or faster way to grow in your gifts than to surround yourself with other rockstars who are more experienced and more knowledgeable than you are!

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  • Dottie says:

    Thank you for this. Oh, how I can relate and re-relate this on to my daughter who is/was playing volleyball. Now, for it to work in me, I desire to continually surround myself with those that are ahead of the journey. whether it is another widow, a Mom trying to work full time for the 1st time in a long time, whomever the LORD puts in my path, I desire to learn. Thanks for the encouragement today.

  • Eric J says:

    In and of itself, I don’t disagree with the advice — though I would throw in a caution… You didn’t throw in the towel after your experience — when evidence suggests that the vast majority of people, after having a “humbling” experience surrounded by people with far superior skills/abilities, will give up altogether.

    For example, comparing the top third of students at “non-Ivy League” schools with the bottom third of Ivy League students — students who are otherwise on equal intellectual ground — shows that the bottom third of Ivy League students only graduate (in Science degree programs) at the same level as the bottom third of “non-Ivy League” students… In other words, being in the “bottom third” [versus the “top third”, which had over 3 times as many graduates] makes a difference, REGARDLESS of whom you’re surrounded by — and generally speaking, it’s a negative one [psychologically, anyway]. (Read David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell for the evidence.)

    You said it yourself: being surrounded by those with far superior skills “killed [your] confidence”.

    The DIFFERENCE, as I said before, however, is that you stuck with it… (I have a very similar story about playing chess… I was the undefeated chess champion in high school. Then I went to a “small town” chess club — knowing that I wasn’t a Master, so I wouldn’t be “top dog” going in, but a “solid enough” player to hold my ground — yet it took me over ONE YEAR to win my FIRST game — against their LOWEST RATED PLAYER! They told me they typically scare off most players within the first couple of weeks. But because I stuck with it, I was MUCH stronger as a result — and based on my then existing ELO rating, had a less than 1 in 1 BILLION chance of placing where I did in a major tournament afterwards.)

    So I say all that to confirm that the results are as you’ve said — but you MUST stick with it after such experiences, and most people don’t. They give up because they’ve been psychologically defeated.

    But this is where it dovetails into mentoring… Everyone should be involved in mentoring in three distinct roles: 1) you should be mentored by someone who is further along than you, 2) you should have a group of peers that you meet with and 3) you should have someone whom you’re mentoring who isn’t as far along as you are. You’re speaking to the first role — and I agree. But you also should not lose sight of those around you (your peers) or those that might be further behind (those whom you could mentor).

    We are all at different stages of life — no one is born and is an automatic “expert” — so if you want to grow, you DO have to seek out those that are further along than you are and have more skills [than you do currently]. And towards that point, I wholeheartedly agree with the article. 🙂

    • Henrietta says:

      I am in absolute agreement with Eric J.
      I have seen this in action many times
      in my life, and seen the success of it.
      Perhaps Christy Wright will add this
      advice to the end of her story.

  • Kim Yates-Enlow says:

    I love this article! Often I have shied away from that feeling of mediocrity. Feeling like I need to continue to polish my strengths and let them shine bright. Letting my strong suits help to hide/blind people away from my weaknesses. I am learning to show and grow. To be with those that are better than me at task/talents I want to improve in myself and to show my scars and areas of weakness. This has allowed me to grow and develop. Thank you for sharing both your strong and talented side and your weaknesses.