Self-Employed? Ask Peers for Feedback

In March I will turn 50. That does some things to my psyche, as I’m sure it does for most anyone facing the half-century mark in their lives.

It causes me to be a little sad that in the rearview mirror of my life, youth appears farther and farther away. It also makes me more determined to make the most of every day because, in many ways, these are the best years of my life — I’m more experienced, still learning, but hopefully wiser than I was at 20 or 30.

Facing down 50 also has led me to reflect on some questions, one of which is how I will spend the remainder of my career. I feel strongly that there is much more I can do, and should be doing, and that I need to broaden my thinking about what I have to offer a client, an employer, my profession, or perhaps an entirely different one.

One of the shortcomings of being self-employed for nearly 13 years is that I miss out on annual performance reviews. I believe I respond well to feedback; I try to use it as an opportunity to improve myself and my work. I do ask for, and sometimes receive, feedback from clients, but it is not the same as a formal performance evaluation like most corporations have.

So I recently asked a small group of friends and colleagues who know me and my work well to provide me with some insights based on that knowledge. I asked them to tell me what they believe to be my strengths and my shortcomings, and to think about other professions or occupations for which they believe I’m well-suited. The latter question is intended to open my thinking about what is possible, given my strengths and shortcomings.

The feedback has been exceedingly helpful and more interesting than I expected it would be. There were some themes among the responses that surprised me. The thing I appreciate the most is that the people on my little assessment board were honest and candid. They did not hold back, and in some cases they gave me some feedback that was difficult to hear but also specific and helpful. That is the best kind of feedback.

I encourage you — especially if you are self-employed — to conduct your own assessment exercise. You will benefit greatly from it. But if you do conduct one, keep these things in mind:

  • Ask for feedback from people you know will be candid and not just those who will sing your praises. This might include asking people who are among your toughest critics or with whom you find yourself frequently disagreeing in conversations, Facebook discussions, etc.
  • Ask for feedback from people who represent various aspects of your life — personal and professional.
  • Be ready to accept the feedback as valid even if you don’t agree with it and even if it makes you a bit angry or uncomfortable. You are asking people for their perceptions and assessments. If you trust them enough to ask for their feedback, then trust that they speak their truth.
  • Even if you don’t apply every specific piece of feedback you receive, open yourself to using it to help think differently. My assessors gave me some surprising ideas about professions and occupations in which they think I would thrive. While I might not pursue some of the specific ones they mentioned, it has caused me to think differently about what I do.
  • Resist the temptation to defend yourself. I found myself getting a little defensive about some of my feedback, but upon reflection realized that my assessors were being true to my request. I dumped the defensiveness in order to experience growth.



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