What’s Your Big Reveal?

By Marshall Goldsmith

Maybe this has happened to you. You’re at a family wedding involving people once or twice removed from your immediate family. You have a breezy familiarity with some of the guests and wedding party members, less so with most of the guests. 

At the reception, you watch your quiet cousin Ed coaxed onto the dance floor, where you discover that he moves like a cross between Fred Astaire and Justin Timberlake. You’re genuinely surprised to learn that Ed is a terrific dancer. Where’s he been hiding this talent all his life? 

It happens again during the toasts. Erica, the always-serious maid of honor studying for her PhD in chemistry, whom you’ve known since her childhood, stands up to toast the bride and groom and delivers a 10-minute speech from memory that is both funny and heartfelt, dazzling the room and taking the wedding vibe to another level. As you applaud Erica, you turn to the people at your table, all of you thinking the same thing: Who knew Erica was so funny? 

The scene is a staple of comedies and thrillers. It’s the Big Reveal where we discover that a heretofore unimpressive character has abilities we never suspected. It’s learning that Marisa Tomei’s character in My Cousin Vinny, the sneaky-smart-and-competent Monica Vito, knows a lot about cars. These are movie scenes we can watch repeatedly because they provide such satisfying closure. We are happy to see the character’s excellence revealed, perhaps envying that their special quality is finally known to all. I suspect a lot of us feel that way: We yearn for our specialness to be known. 

But first we have to identify the special skills and personality traits that very few people know about us. 

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Here is an exercise that can help you do just that. 

DO THIS: What about you, when finally out in the open, would surprise people and leave them thinking, “Who knew?” 

Maybe it’s your world-class collection of Arts and Crafts pottery, or that you volunteer at a soup kitchen every Sunday, or that your poetry has been published in serious journals, or that you know how to write code, or that you win your age-group at national Masters Swimming championships. Maybe you’re like Ed and Erica—you dance well or can deliver a toast like a professional stand-up—and simply needed a wedding for your Big Reveal. 

My point is, that once revealed, your quality of “Who Knew?” is an eye-opening experience for other people who thought they knew you, leaving them to infer that you have hidden depths of passion, commitment, and resourcefulness, that you’re more capable than they thought. It elevates your credibility in their eyes. It’s the ideal net result: You are earning credibility. 

Now extend this exercise to the workplace. What is the Big Reveal—your Who Knew? quality—that would raise your credibility among your peers and bosses? If everyone knew, what positive difference would it make in your life? 

Why are you hiding it? 

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