Musings + Essays

What Are You Secretly Good At?

By: Jen Shoop

I was so moved by the sentiment shared by my most recent woman of substance, Julia Webb, when she said:

“A year ago, I saw a quote that read ‘Stop shrinking yourself to make others feel big.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been shrinking myself so others wouldn’t feel intimidated or perceive me as a ‘know it all’ or ‘arrogant.'”

I think that many women underestimate or downplay their abilities and achievements. In my own experience, this “self-shrinking” goes hand in hand with the imposter syndrome I battled in my early 20s, when I was afraid that if I admitted that (or acted as if) I was succeeding at something, someone else would say: “Um, no you’re not.” As a corollary, for a long while, I found it very difficult to accept a compliment, nearly always wanting to qualify or shush or deflect, which, my younger sister pointed out rather frankly one afternoon, was neither a good look nor a kindness to the issuer. Only with considerable effort have I learned to say: “Thank you” and then bite my tongue. It’s taken even more willpower to issue that thank you with the heartfelt-ness I always secretly feel (who doesn’t love an earnest compliment?!) by willing myself to make eye contact with the issuer, smile, and let the “thank you” hang out there, unqualified, for a beat, before changing the subject. (Try it next time — see how you fare!)

At any rate, today, I’m challenging you to fill in the blank:

I am really good at ___________.

Please share in the comments! I’ll start:

I am really good at listening, writing, and logistics.*

Your turn!

*I wish I could claim I was good at piano, as the photo above insinuates, but alas – – despite years of private lessons, I am woefully out of practice.


+Things I love that I shouldn’t.

+Pearl detail sweater! You know I can’t resist a pearl.

+Pineapple laundry basket. LOVE.

+A more muted take on the exaggerated color trend.

+This fringed sweater has an Isabel Marant je ne sais quoi to it.

+This turtleneck sweatshirt is perfect for throwing on over my workout gear on a cold morning.

+My favorite products for my 3-year-old daughter.

+What pants/denim are you wearing this fall? Are you trying anything new? I am ordering a few new shapes to try that are a little out of my comfort zone, like the J. Brand’s I mentioned last week, Trave’s Constance Straight Tapered, either Everlane’s cropped wide legs or Gap’s, and I’m very curious about these ones from Something Navy, which are very Ulla-esque, but at a better pricepoint. Can’t tell if I’ll look ridiculous in them…I’m usually more traditional!

+Related to above: my sister ordered these paper bag waist pants in the cream color I’m inspired to try new shapes, too…maybe this is a good fit for me?

+How amazing is this toile trench coat, on clearance for $37?!

+Ordered these darling scallop-edged boots for mini.

+Another long-sleeved, loose-fit running tee score. (I shared more in response to one of the shopping questions here.)

+We’re taking the children apple and pumpkin picking soon and they are so unaccustomed to car rides, I always need to pack some surprises for them. I got mini this fall book and micro this apple board book, which my sister recommended in her post on supporting literacy for little ones during coronavirus.

+This soft, traditionally-styled cotton robe looks a lot like my Eberjey robe, which I treasure because I bought it for the hospital after micro was born and I have such warm and fuzzy memories of snuggling with him wearing it.

+New York is still a shock.

+Musings on reading. (What are you reading?)

+A cute long-sleeved tee for a boy for only $5.

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42 thoughts on “What Are You Secretly Good At?

  1. I find it so telling, how much I hesitated to post a comment. But ok, I’m owning it! Here goes…

    – letter writing. It’s such a delight for me to choose a card that I think the recipient would appreciate for an occasion (or no occasion at all, just because!), and compose a personal note or a message of thanks. Long live snail mail!

    – listening and reframing (at least my friends say so!). I’ve learned a lot about reframing how we view a situation from having experienced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a therapist. I’m not a therapist and definitely don’t try to act like one, but when a friend shares a struggle I try to help them think it through (if that’s what they want at the moment) by asking them open ended questions or reflective questions to help them clarify or reframe their thinking (but not telling them what or how to think). Of course if they just want a listening ear and empathy I’m happy to offer just that as well.

    – I can reverse park with confidence and learned how to do it with just the rear view and side mirrors, way before the 360 cameras or rear view cameras cars today have. When I was learning to drive, an older woman told me this: as a woman driving alone, it helps to park in reverse so you can make an easy forward getaway in an emergency situation or suspicious situation. It’s how I’ve been parking for 2 decades now and I can reverse park with a car or large SUV. In fact, my parking is much more centered in reverse than forwards! I’ve impressed even male friends with this skill.

    – I’m good at swimming. I used to swim laps regularly – I’m not fast by any means, but skilled enough to enjoy it and go through a rigorous scuba diving training program (well, that was back in my 20’s though, my energy level was different then!) — that had strict distance swimming and underwater breath holding requirements before you could even touch the equipment. (It baffles me how some programs don’t require this to begin a certification! We’re going to be in the open ocean after all…)

    – to echo what others have said, I’m proud of my cursive penmanship. I used to dread penmanship class in school because of my overly long name (which I don’t use in full except on official documents, and it won’t even fit on all official documents, that’s how long it is ) — which I had to write 100’s of times but now I’m glad it paid off!

    – I can cook really well, and don’t always need a recipe. I still love cookbooks and take inspiration from them, but I frequently cook by taste and feel.

    This was fun to think about, and I truly enjoyed reading what others had to say! And this here is just a snapshot of the collective strength and talent of womxn!

    1. Mia! I read this list first thing this morning and it put me in the best mood thinking of all my Magpies going about their days, being awesome at things like parallel parking and cursive. Love. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. I missed this post the first time around but got to it from today’s link 🙂 Like some others have mentioned, listening and giving great, thoughtful gifts are top talents for me too. But a more unusual one is parallel parking! I grew up near enough to the beach that we went all the time, but far enough away that we had to drive there. I am consequently so good at parallel parking that anytime we go somewhere it will be necessary, my husband insists I drive.

    1. I love this! A true talent — I have on occasion gone out of my way to applaud someone on a good parallel parking job having lived for a long time in Georgetown/Glover Park and had to master the skill myself. Thanks, Julie!!

  3. So wonderful to read all of these responses!

    I am extremely handy with tools around the house. Growing up my dad and I were always working on projects together in the garage. We used to affectionally call him (a more clever) Inspector Gadget. Over the years we built furniture dollies, fishing racks, and wind fences together. Before I left for college my dad spent a good amount of time curating the perfect toolbox for me to bring to school. Every item fit neatly into the black and yellow plastic and every item was neatly monogramed with my initials. As if anyone was going to steal my four-pack wrench set? I lugged it down to school and have used it in every dorm room and apartment since! It was extremely popular for picture hanging, wobbly elevated bed reinforcement, and the occasional mini-fridge tinkering. I really enjoy working on smaller house projects and I truly do not mind helping out with an IKEA assembly!

    I also have an extremely sharp memory. I can recall the first and last name of your sixth grade crush and probably their taste in music too. I remember birthdays, anniversaries, dietary restrictions etc. Thoughtfulness is really important to me and I try to take the extra step to weave these bits of information and knowledge into my relationships with others.

    1. Ohhh I so love these – especially that the handiness was learned from your father. So sweet. And I love the idea of a monogrammed set of tools! Bad ass!


  4. I love this post and reading other ladies’ strengths being shared PROUDLY.

    I’m a crazy efficinent packer. I managed to fit 3 weeks of winter wear into an international carry-on suitcase with room to bring home my shopping finds when I went to Argentina.

    I give great gifts. My brother is getting a PhD in radiochemistry and has a Beatles obsession. I found him a periodic table of all Beatles songs and albums ever made.

    I am really speedy at mental math. I’ll split bills/do calculations faster than people can on calculators.

    I’m cutthroat when it comes to decluttering. I don’t hold onto excessive junk.

    1. I love all of these and also love all of the strengths shared here in the comments. It has been so interesting to read because so many of us list socio-emotional skills (listening, buying gifts, parenting) as our talents but there aren’t as many quant/technical brags — so I was glad to see you share your strength in mental math!!

      Also – I’m envious of your packing skills. I need to take a page out of your book.


  5. I loved reading everyone’s accolades! What a lovely group.

    I have excellent penmanship. I had a big whiteboard in my room when I was a child and practiced printing and cursive in different styles for hours. Now I love that friends will ask for my help on projects that need calligraphy or fun lettering!

    1. Oo that is SO fun! My mom is also self-taught (…possibly also professionally taught come to think of it) in calligraphy and she saved us so much money on wedding invitations and place cards by lettering them herself! 🙂

      I have very tidy penmanship, too. In high school I would probably write in the equivalent of size 8 point font and took tremendous pride in how straight and perfect and tiny the letters were! Type A through and through…

  6. Oh I love this! I hesitate to say but I do think parenting is something I am deeply passionate about and pour my soul into. I am also a great time filler for my family, and consider myself to be a good friend!

    1. Don’t hesitate!!! You’re a great mom. It really shines through in your feedback, encouragement, thoughts in the comments of this blog. I can just tell your boys are the center of your world and that you are a patient, observant mom.


  7. My manager at work told me yesterday that I am skilled at keeping a level-head when things get crazy and she admires how I approach things so rationally. I appreciated the compliment and hope it comes in handy as my baby quickly approaches toddlerhood 🙂

    1. What a testament to you — I’m sure that made you feel amazing. It’s so wonderful to be seen for your strengths.

      And, yes…will definitely come in handy with a toddler!


  8. I am really good at meeting and befriending people. In my old Brooklyn apartment building (we moved out in July), there were ten units and I knew and had the phone numbers to people in most of them. If something happened in the building, I’d have many texts and text chains going keeping everyone in the loop. 🙂 It’s probably the Midwesterner in me (I was raised in Pittsburgh), but if I have a “secret” to this, I just assume people would like another friend. Who wouldn’t want another friend in their building? If they don’t, they don’t, and I don’t take it personally. 🙂

    1. I love this so much, Joyce. Your warmth and empathy for others (which undergirds I think your friendliness with strangers/neighbors!) totally shines through your comments here on the blog. xx

    2. Happy to see another Pittsburgher in the comments, Joyce! I am born and bred and have moved back to raise my children near family after many years away in Boston and NYC. xx

    3. Thank you for your kind words, Jen!

      And Kate C – we are actually in the process of moving back to Pittsburgh with our now almost one year-old son (*hopefully* it has been quite the year for my husband to be job searching). Please keep your fingers crossed for us! And if we end up making the move, would love to start an in-person Magpie Book Club in the Burgh at some point in the future 🙂 xo.

  9. I’m a great conversationalist. My neighbors joke that I’m the mayor of our apartment building. I often travel alone so it comes in handy as a way to meet new people.

    I’m also really good at crossword puzzles!

    1. Lauren – That is a SERIOUS gift. So many people find it difficult to engage with strangers — I’m impressed. Have you developed this skill over time or were you born with that confidence? Amazing.


  10. Oh, this is so hard for me, but I will try. I am good at being very in tune with others’ feelings and supporting them, cooking and baking, and parenting. Parenting is always so humbling so I’m hesitant to list it but I do believe I’m raising good people.

    I have been wondering about pants and jeans too. A friend mentioned low rise jeans are making a comeback but she better be wrong. Of all the terrible things that come out of 2020, that better not be one of them! I did finally buy a pair of paper bag waist pants after worrying about them swallowing my short frame and they are super flattering so I encourage you to try them!

    1. Hi Amy! I love that you’ve shared this impressive list of talents. From the comments you’ve left for me on many posts, I can tell you are a wonderful parent. Don’t shy away from that — own it!

      I laughed out loud at your comment on low-rise jeans. I so hear you. I was just thinking how incredibly uncomfortable it always was to sit down in a pair of low-rise jeans. BLECH.


  11. I am really good at gift giving and listening (these tend to go hand in hand).

    In the ‘Notes’ section of my iPhone, I keep an ever running list of items next to family/ friend’s name of things they’ve mentioned in passing that they like/ want/ et al. If an occasion arrives (birthday, holiday), I have a list at my fingertips of things they’ve mentioned or at least enough information that I can be quickly inspired to get a gift together in short order. My gifts have been very well received and it always feels personally satisfying to me that I’ve really listened to someone’s needs. Even for the seemingly trivial items (looking at you $40 Aesop hand soap!), those types of housewarming gifts have ended up being the most loved as the type that you’d secretly want but may not buy yourself.

    1. What a sweet talent and habit! (And a great idea — copying you now!)

      Love all the good listeners I have in this Magpie nest I’ve built. So many of you are incredibly empathetic, patient, willing to lend an ear. xx

  12. This is how I know we are virtual soul sisters: before I saw your response, I thought of organization, writing, and empathy as my top skills. 🙂 So similar! Otherwise, on a more “fun” note, I would add swimming and friendship bracelet making (hahaha)

    Re: jeans — I am reaching for a boyish selvedge pair by Chimala a lot, in addition to my usual repertoire of slim straight and cropped styles (which hit more at my ankle since I’m petite!)

    And finally, re: reading, I am really excited to start David Chang’s memoir soon — I find him intriguing both as a chef/entrepreneur and as a mental health advocate!


    1. Oh, and if you like those Something Navy pants AND Everlane, maybe you’ll like Everlane’s new Arc pant? I have a pair of Levi’s in that same “balloon” shape and love them, even if they’re maybe not the most flattering in a traditional sense. They feel so NOW!

      1. Hadn’t seen those! I may need to order a few different brands because it feels like fit will be king with these…I could look like a weird clown in some of these styles, ha!


    2. We totally are — swimming is such a good skill! This is so random but I used to babysit for a family whose mother was just the chicest, most elegant woman, and every day, she would wear a sleek black one-piece and dive perfectly into a lap pool their elderly neighbors had next door and do a couple of laps. I always thought it was so impossibly elegant? And cool? That she was so good at diving and swimming, and that she’d take a little plunge every single day.

      David Chang is so interesting to me. I’ve seen him on a bunch of cooking shows and his personality is really hard to read — sometimes he seems very cocky and other times, very down-to-earth. Hadn’t heard about his memoir but if he narrates the audiobook, I am all in.


    3. Totally hear you re: both David Chang and the pants! I hadn’t thought to find out if he narrated the audiobook … that’d be an interesting listen! I heard about the memoir on his podcast and the exploring-mental-health aspect sold me on it.

      The Everlane pants look like they’re about 1-2″ too long in the inseam for me to want to try them. (Side note: I love how Everlane posts the measurements of their garments!) I’d have to commit to tailoring them and while they’re very reasonable in price, I’m not sure I want to spend $100+ total on another pair of pants in that silhouette! Something about the taper at the bottom makes me feel they’d be more expensive to tailor, but I may be off base…

    4. I also just thought I should add my actual (ha) superpower: learning languages! This skill has always come extremely easily to me and brought me so much pleasure throughout my life. 🙂

      1. Ooh – love this!!! You should try programming — if you’re good at learning languages, you’ll probably be good at that!


    5. Aww, thanks for the encouragement! I kind of wish I’d become a programmer/developer … might look into auditing a course nearby since I live near a bunch of universities! Thanks for the push! xx

  13. I am good at helping people talk through their big life decisions and pivots! I think this is somewhere on the corner of the skills of listening and giving people permission to follow their dreams, but anyway, that is what I am most proud of 🙂

  14. Im my old-fashioned European upbringing, compliments were considered embarrassing. To this day, if anyone says anything complimentary I reply, That’s very kind of you.
    My secret skill: at 63 I can still thread a needle without wearing glasses or using one of those twisted wires.

    1. That is impressive! You must be handy with a needle. Sewing is such an underrated skill — my mom sent me to take sewing classes at G Street Fabrics in Maryland when I was maybe seven or eight and I am still appreciative to this day, whenever I need to repair a seam or sew on a button or what have you.


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