I was recently reading a book about finding one’s strength which got me to thinking about how we view our strengths, how we view our weaknesses, what both of them mean to us, to the way we do or don’t do things, act and feel. Is this something that is innate and unchangeable? Can we develop new strengths (and weaknesses)? Which also begs the question – is this something in our mind or is it even possible to change?
This month I’m out to find the strengths and weaknesses of strengths and weaknesses in our lives and in our minds.
What’s a Strength?
In the book by Tom Rath, it suggests that Strengths can be substituted for the word Talents – a relatively ‘in-born’ but developable skill that people tend to have at a relatively early age. He suggests that while we can do anything we set our minds out to do, sometimes when we refuse to acknowledge our strengths and work in areas of our weaknesses instead, that we are taking the path of greatest resistance – using our resources unwisely or creating greater challenges to combat in what could be a daily struggle of existence. When people are not utilizing their strengths in a job situation, those people are six times less likely to be engaged in what they are doing. I would suppose that it not only creates a relatively unfulfilling work life, but also may negatively affect those in the sphere of the person.
What does strength mean to you? Your definition may be very different from what I’m suggesting and it makes them no less or no more right – just a different perspective.
How do you find / rediscover your?
If you’d rather be engaged in, rather than dread an uphill climb in life, how do you find what your talents are? A longitudinal study done in New Zealand found that a large percentage of 26 year olds had identical talents as they had as early as 3 years old. But what if butterfly catching isn’t the job I think I want now? Remember, a strength or talent is an aspect or approach that you’re good at – like focus, input, positivity, strategic, discipline, arranger, belief, developer etc. – not that you were better at swinging on a tire than the other kids.
Sometimes you might need to get some help from others about what you were like when you were little/younger. In another book, called “wishcraft” it suggests that you review what you loved to do – how you spent your time, what you felt strong/good while doing, how you participated in these tasks/events – and from there you can find some possible themes for your talents.
While we may respect our parents and community, a personal strength is not necessarily what others might think would be best for us. While some cultures require that the first born follows a pre-ordained path, this may not necessarily be working with natural or desirable strengths for that particular individual. It doesn’t mean that it’s a wrong way of doing it, but in certain countries there are ‘inherited sons’ who are not along the blood line of the family, but will take over the capacity within the family business as a member of the ‘family’. It seems that this convoluted bloodline is much more supportive of success within a family firm over the long term.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that early labels must make or break us – yet with a grain of salt, we might find some truth in this. I have a very intelligent friend who was called slow throughout childhood which affected her thoughts about herself, even when all evidence was to the contrary. If harmful or hurtful labels are running around in your mind, these aren’t the strengths I’m talking about. I know that for many years I wanted to be the ‘smart one’ rather than the ‘creative one’, but realize as an adult that I find my greatest joy when I am creating. So sometimes we might rediscover lost aspects of ourselves when we feel we don’t have as much to prove as we did in the past – this tends to come from the belief that if we are one thing, we can’t be another thing at all (which I don’t believe is true).
What do you do with Weakness?
There are two schools of thought as far as dealing with weaknesses goes. There’s a phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is one approach – that we focus on our weaknesses through time, practice and patience to surmount them. This is often part of the story of the ‘underdog’ who works harder than those with natural talent and becomes the hero in the end.
Another is to ‘ignore’ one’s weaknesses – that means through outsourcing that skill to others, selecting jobs and situations where we can use our strengths instead.
There are different ways of looking at both of these approaches to weakness – the first could be persevering spirit or pushing against a brick wall, the second could be using all strength to best outcome or just an avoidance mechanism – and they might both be right.
While I was taught to push through weaknesses that should be able to be surmounted with enough elbow grease, I am thinking more of the latter (using my strengths and allowing others to use theirs) much more now. While I can create a website with all the tools that exist, I choose to outsource my technology projects, so I can focus on content. While I’ve mentioned that I can clean when pressed (I actually had a job as a cleaning person once), it is one job I’d much rather outsource so I can focus my time and energy on something else. Sometimes accepting/resigning to our weaknesses allows others to shine, which is a great thing. I ‘refuse’ (seem to be incapable) of remembering birthdays in my family – I know there will be suggestions of web-reminders etc – and so my sister now sends me a little gift of a note about family birthdays. She doesn’t have to do it but that is something she’s great at and it makes me look as though I’ve got the birthday thing under control. I swap (unofficially) to help her with a few things I’m strong in. It seems to work out in the end.
What are they both worth?
I think I’ve asked the question before. If it’s not a challenge, is it actually worth something. Bird’s nest soup, a soup made from soaked bird nests created by bird saliva etc (tastes better than it sounds) is collected in a most daring way from the precarious nooks along the sides of cliffs! And they come at a premium, because not everyone will climb to find them. Bird nests for bird’s nest soup are dangerous and rare.
What about the parts of our lives that come easily to us – are they still worth something? I love to write and would do it happily without getting paid – other people feel it’s like pulling teeth and will do everything in their power to avoid it. So while it is not a huge challenge for me to do personally, it is worthwhile. I know that with a sport like Aikido smaller competitors are not disadvantaged because they use the strength and momentum of other, larger competitors to win. So maybe it’s that flow that happens with the natural strengths we possess that allows us to progress with less effort – we are actually using the energy of our talents to move us forward.
Another point that I drew from various sources including a marketing expert and a Marianne Williamson excerpt – are we so selfish to hide our talents that we might not better the world, or be a living example of someone doing what they do best? Are we hoarding our talents so that the world might not have us contributing value to the whole? When I look at it that way, I feel a greater impetus to rediscover, to find my strengths and use them as best I can.