innovation

The Hidden Value of Weakness

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

What if your weaknesses were actually your strengths – but you just haven’t figured out what those weaknesses have been trying to tell you, or how to transform them intro strengths yet?

(Wouldn’t you feel better about feeling weak?)

 “I believe in shaking up the way things are done.” 

–Leo Babauta, zenhabits.com, in “When Being Who You Are Challenges the Norms

Embracing your weaknesses can help you shake things up to challenge the norms. Thanks to @ChrisSpagnuolo for tweeting that this was the best thing he read a few days ago, which made me click the link and read it too. I appreciated it as well – because I also believe in shaking up the way things are done. However, my approach is a little different: whereas Leo reflects on the impact he’s had on others by being vegan, minimalist, self-employed, carless, and so on – I believe you can shake up the way things are done by aspiring to be the best you that you can be – especially when you being your best means embracing aspects of yourself that you, or others (or society) typically view as weaknesses.

Here’s what I mean. A few months ago I was having a deep talk with my friend  @jack122112, lamenting my lack of ability to focus. (At least that’s how I interpret it… and how it feels.) I’m all over the place, and always have been. I have three degrees in three different fields, and a fourth Master’s that I almost completed. I’ve had jobs as a software engineer, a manager of software engineers, a data analyst, a post office contractor, a physics and calculus tutor, a psychiatric office manager, a medical biller, a business analyst, a scientific analyst, a secretary, a management consultant, an engagement manager, and a professor. The books I can see from where I’m sitting right now cover topics from quality to eclipses to brewing beer (which I don’t do, I just think about) to statistics to ergonomics to dream interpretation. I’ve explored topics and done research in a hodgepodge of areas to the point where it probably looks, from the outside, that there’s no cohesive theme among my interests.

But there is a common element – a point of cohesion – and that’s ME.

Jack wasn’t bothered at all by my dilemma. “Well,” he said, “perhaps your ability to connect with so many ideas in so many different areas IS your strength. Why are you so bothered that you can’t seem to focus in one area? Maybe that’s just not what you were meant to do. Maybe you should accept it.”

Women for a long time were kept out of the workplace because they were thought to be too weak or emotional for many jobs. People used to throw away very little, and nothing was ‘disposable’ because that was thought to be wasteful … wait, maybe that wasn’t so bad. What if you could shake things up … just by being who you are? Without having to do anything but tell someone who or what you are? –Leo

I’ve spent the past few months just accepting my dilemma, and not worrying about it too much. Maybe I’m just not meant to focus in one area, I’ve told myself, and I will discover the hidden strength in this. And paradoxically, since making this decision I’ve been more focused and content – and much more productive.

So here’s an exercise for you. What’s your weakness? What bothers you the most about your personal habits? And why do you think it’s such a problem?

For example, let’s say you just can’t get things done. You totally lack productivity… you’re a slacker. There’s a hundred things you know you have to do, but if no one is pushing you to do them, you’re just going to go off and play video games. And feel like a total loser. And apologize to the people you’ve let down when parts of your world come crashing down around you. (If I were you, the first thing I’d ask myself is, why do I need to be so productive anyway? Challenge the foundations upon which the assumption lies.)

What if your weaknesses are trying to tell you something? A few years ago, after bemoaning my struggles with time management, I discovered that I have MORE THAN enough time (and enough focus) for everything I truly WANT to do!! And for those things I don’t get done, or just don’t have the energy to focus on, I’ve got to be real with myself — and figure out which one (or more) of these five obstacles are getting in my way! Then, after unveiling the root causes of my weakness… I can move on with a grounded, practical solution to transform it into a strength.

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