Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.
Marilyn vos Savant
I studied Latin at school and carried on all the way through high school. To be blunt, I really sucked at it. But somehow, I carried on.
I was told studying languages, and Latin in particular, would later open more doors for me career-wise. So I buckled down and carried on, even though languages were not really my forte.
Today I don’t really know if it was a wise decision and if it really opened doors. I was good at math and was doing fine in some courses, so I got all the way through college somehow. But it wasn’t without hurdles.
I had to spend a lot of time doing damage limitation. I didn’t enjoy it. I also ended up having to re-take two years along the way.
In the end, I went for what I recognized I was good at and studied engineering in college. This is after having wrestled with some of my weaknesses for years.
I guess I enjoyed some aspects of it. Being good at maths and liking it, while most people in my class hated it, made me stand out. In a way, I was already a bit of an outcast back then, which I have always enjoyed (story of my life).
Where am I going with this?
Today, even though I believe we should still be decent in most areas, I’m in favor of spending a lot more energy honing our strengths than dealing with our weaknesses. That means accepting doing a mediocre job when working on a task in a weakness area.
Finding your strengths
Do you know what your strengths are? Have you spent time reflecting on them? If not, I invite you to do it now.
Here are a few tips to help you identifying your strengths:
- Are there any tasks you can do with ease while other people struggle with them?
- What are the skills that other people compliment you on?
- Send an email to 10 people that know you well and ask them what they think you’re good at
- Take the Clifton Strengthfinder test.
Make sure you know your strengths. The combination of your strengths is what makes you unique.
Hone your skills to become a master at your strengths. Leverage your unique combination of skills and you will stand out from the crowd. People will come to you to seek out your unique skillset. You’ll have impact.
Rather than focusing on being efficient, why not focus on making an impact and being effective first?
Now we need to explore the other side of the coin, your weaknesses.
Knowing your weaknesses
Hopefully you’ve got some awareness of your weaknesses.
As a student, you’re getting grades that give you a direct feedback on your strengths and weaknesses at that point in time. I was bad at Latin and German and it showed.
Outside of school we don’t get grades, but we get other forms of feedbacks. We struggle when we have to do something we’re bad at. We get into conflicts because we disappoint other people by under-delivering.
Think about negative feedback you’ve received or felt systematically while working on a task or in a specific area.
This will help you find out your weaknesses. Like for your strengths, you can ask people who know you well about your weaknesses (or areas of improvement if you prefer).
Knowing your weaknesses means you can deal more effectively in areas of your life that you know are not your forte. You can now either accept mediocrity in those areas or delegate specific tasks to someone who is good at them. Or even ask for help.
The fact is: trying to be great at everything will lead you nowhere. Also, by spending time on things you are weak at, you’ll also exhaust your energy and time quickly.
Know your role
Reflect on your life.
What has been the source of your successes? Leveraging your strengths or overcoming your weaknesses?
It’s likely that you had to “neutralize” weaknesses so you could let your strengths shine. But it’s your strengths that brought you your success.
Get into the habit of analyzing situations you find yourself in. Observe and understand how your strengths and weaknesses are impacting or have impacted the outcome.
Use your strengths. Have you ever seen a wizard jump in the middle of a melee with a sword (Ok, Gandalf does that, but he is not a “standard” wizard)? So don’t jump into the melee if you’re a wizard. Know your role.
Next time you plan to get results, know your role and define actions that will leverage your strengths so you can get outstanding results.
Let’s use an example to illustrate how to handle a job by focusing on your strengths and accepting your weaknesses.
Imagine you have to give a presentation. And let’s assume you’re good at public speaking, but not so much at designing slides.
One way to be more effective and focusing on your strengths would be to first write down the message you want to convey. Visualize yourself giving the presentation, play it in your head. Get a story going. Then write down the main elements of the story.
If your work situation permits, once you have the outline, you can delegate the design of the slides to someone else. If you can’t do that, instead:
- Spend some time (but not too much) designing the slides yourself.
- Once you have a first draft, ask a colleague (or maybe your spouse) to review your slides. Someone who is good at it.
- Use their feedback to create a much improved version.
In either case, you’ll end up with a superior set of slides. You can then do some last changes and be done with it.
Impactful, effective. Going further, you could then put a system in place, where that person would always review your presentation.
In exchange, you could do something else for them. If they have to give presentations, you can do a dry run with them or coach them to be a better speaker.
Maximize your impact
Embrace your strengths, be unique and surround yourself with an effective team if you want to maximize your impact. Decide now to be yourself and live a life that resonates with your values and strengths.
Life is a journey, an exploration. Focus on it. Do what excites and fulfills you. I invite you, like me, to find the right balance of honing strengths and maintaining weaknesses to live the life you want.
Don’t do what I did and don’t waste time studying or doing what you don’t enjoy. It’s not worth it. Not really.
What are your biggest strengths? And how do you leverage them in life? Share your answers with the community below.