Don’t Bother Overcoming Your Weaknesses

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.

weaknessesPhoto Credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk, Creative Commons

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.

8 comments on “Don’t Bother Overcoming Your Weaknesses

  1. Tim Ferriss made this same argument, and as a blanket statement that you shouldn’t overcome your weaknesses, I disagree completely. Some weaknesses will hold you back if you don’t overcome them. If you are a huge procrastinator and can’t get yourself to take action, then this will hold you back. If you are an alcoholic, then you should take care of it. If you are so out of shape that you lack the energy to enjoy life, fix it.

    Some weaknesses are clearly not worth the effort to fix, especially if we can partner with someone whose strengths complement our weaknesses, but I think it is pretty clear that certain weaknesses we *have* to overcome if we want to be happy and successful.

    I enjoy your blog, by the way. Sorry to be so critical on my first comment!

    • I think this is the counter-intuitive nature of this realization for me. Like Pressfield says, even alcoholism has a corresponding strength! That means, if we focus on “overcoming alcoholism” we might also put aside or put to death the strength that comes with that detriment. Even if we’re successful, all we’ve done is overcome a habit. If we focus on growing the strength, the hope is it would eventually outweigh the weakness.

      Obviously, I don’t have this completely figured out. But I find the idea incredibly compelling.

      I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

  2. Oh, I heart this so much! I saw myself in so much of your your descriptions of yourself. I live 90{9ac618bfda39dd0c8c9a0232963cb9a2adfe54a7367c2d4954ad9e847b2e5305} of my life in my head. I’ve come to learn I do this because it’s a very safe place for me. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can be less in my head and more in the world but you’re right, it feels wrong. I suppose there really are definitely corresponding strengths to that (seeming) weakness. Thanks for helping me see that! 🙂

  3. Thank you for this post. As Christ followers we often use the adage that we need to speak the truth in love about others weaknesses yet forget that we have our own that the Lord is using to draw us closer to Him through it. Christians especially Christian families need to reflect God’s grace with one another, and unless it’s blatant sin, let Jesus use the weak areas of our life to grow us and shine through as His strength. As children of the King, He gave us all gifts to use for His glory, and I personally need to focus on that more than trying to remake myself. Christ already did that for me on the cross.

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