What’s your greatest weakness?
I don’t know about you, but whenever anyone asks me this question, I always think to myself: “Wait… so I can only give you one?” I have many weaknesses, but if I had to tell you my greatest weakness, I think I would say that I often get lost inside of myself, and miss what’s happening around me.
Several other unfavorable qualities stem from this tendency. I tend to be a little disjointed and disorganized. I forget things (like birthdays and anniversaries, details to stories, and responding to e-mails and text messages—sorry everyone). I lose things. I often overlap things on my calendar.
I’m not always a great listener, if only because I can be a little scattered in conversations.
And really, from the time I was very young, I perceived these qualities would hold me back from being as successful as I wanted to be.
In the public school system, I watched my friends, who were for the most part great students, do things I didn’t do. They had planners and spreadsheets and elaborate binder systems to keep themselves organized. They listened to lectures and took notes and actually paid attention (gasp) for an entire 45 minute class.
All of this seemed like an incredible feat to me (I was busy writing poetry during math class) but since I cared a great deal about being a successful student, I figured I better learn to be like them, too.
So I did. I taught myself to be organized.
In fact, I became a little bit neurotic about it. I found that, if I could keep my external world organized, no one would ever really be able to know how disorganized my internal world was. When I went inside of my head, things were a little chaotic. But, in my physical space, I could organize clothes by color, space the hangers exactly one inch apart, and create elaborate systems to keep my binder organized.
I’m not sure it made much of a difference in actuality, but it sure felt like it did.
It created the illusion of order, although order never really actually existed.
Have you ever noticed how that happens?
How, in trying to “overcome your weaknesses” you actually make the problem worse? For me, it feels like I’m the worst version of myself when I’m focusing on my weaknesses.
I’d love to say I’ve gotten better with remembering things, listening, holding on to details, staying engaged with what’s happening right in front of me—and I suppose, in some ways, I have. I’ve learned to be really functional (although, try to convince me of that the next time I forget a meeting or lock myself out of the house).
But I’m not sure the improvement I’ve seen has to do with an effort to overcome my weaknesses.
In fact, I’m starting to think an obsession over my weaknesses hasn’t done anything except highlight them—both to myself and the people around me. I’m starting to think focusing on my weaknesses has distracted me from all the beautiful things my personality brings—imagination, innovation, creativity, thoughtfulness, and empathy.
Most of the improvement I’ve seen, I’m convinced, comes from focusing on my strengths.
Although I’m “in my head,” I’m also very imaginative. Although I forget things (like e-mails or texts) it’s usually because I’m busy creating and being with the people who are right here with me.
Every single weakness I have comes with a corresponding strength.
We tend to forget this, but it’s true. Even the most shameful weakness you can think of have strengths to represent. Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro talks about how addicts are really just confused creatives. They need the thrill of the chase. They’re just chasing the wrong stuff.
This concept is Biblical too. 2 Corinthians 12 is where Paul shares how he actually boasts in his weakness, because where he is weak, Christ is strong.
How many of us boast in our weaknesses?
What if we did it? What if, instead of focusing on the detriments—even trying to overcome them—what if we simply focused on growing our strengths? What if we tried to forget about our weaknesses (and the weaknesses of others) altogether?
I have a feeling even our most terrible weaknesses could become our greatest assets.