During my first year in the West Point Band, a colleague advised me to keep a running tally of everything I was doing in the band. He called it an “I’m Great List.” This was sage advice, because when it came time for my annual job performance evaluation, I would simply copy and paste the year’s accomplishments from my I’m Great List into an email to my supervisor. This made it very easy for him to see what I had done and for him to create the “bullet points” that were at the heart of the evaluations. When I became a supervisor myself, I kept an I’m Great List for each of the musicians I supervised, and it was similarly easy to craft the bullet points for their evaluations.
When I concluded my tenure with the West Point Band, I had amassed a five-page I’m Great List of about 300 individual accomplishments (including date) organized into six categories:
Each category has one or more subcategories. For example, under Arrangements I have:
Popular Music Ensemble
The overall result is that I now have a log of nearly everything I did for my 10 years in the West Point Band. I also have an “I’m Great List” of my professional accomplishments as an independent musician that is similarly useful.
An unseen benefit to creating these lists was that I could use them for a variety of purposes. I have referred to them many times over the years, for example, to update my bio, for talking points in an interview, or to complete an academic job application.
These types of lists are also valuable to chart career growth; because while numbers don’t always tell the whole story, they can convey breadth. For example, in the West Point Band, I did the following:
-participated in 1000 (give or take) musical performances
-created 103 publicity projects
-wrote 42 arrangements
-performed in 13 different states
This list communicates the scope of my professional activity. It quantifies my work, the “what.”
Then, honing in on individual accomplishments qualifies my work, the “how” and “why”-- performance highlights and why they are special, or representative examples of different styles of arrangements.
In all of this tallying, you are learning about yourself. You are surveying what you have accomplished and identifying which accomplishments are particularly significant and why. Consequently, you are constructing a personal narrative. This narrative can be employed for written publicity materials and in communications with other people. You would be surprised how useful internalizing both the broad and specific categories of your accomplishments can be, say, during a conversation with someone who asks you what you have done in your career.
The goal is not to try to accumulate as lengthy an I’m Great List as possible. Rather, it is to follow your heart and your passion and do the things you are drawn to. Then, after you do them, record them in your I’m Great List and refer to them on a regular basis. It can be a useful self-evaluation tool and suggest future directions.