Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Playing To Our Weaknesses

By Christopher Edgar

We hear a lot in personal development circles about how it's important to "play to our strengths," instead of wasting time trying to improve our "weak" areas. I want to rethink that notion a bit in this post.

It's probably true that we all have our natural aptitudes. It's hard to dispute, for example, that some people are born with body types that make them better athletes.

But sometimes, when we see ourselves as "bad" at some activity, it's simply because we don't like the way we feel when we're doing it -- not because of any inborn lack of talent.

The Making Of A "Weak Point"

Early in life, many of us heard sometimes in a harsh or mean-spirited way -- that we weren't good at something. For example, maybe we tried to paint, and heard that we had no artistic talent. Or perhaps we were the last kids to get picked for the sports teams at school, and we decided we weren't athletically inclined.

The result is that, today, if we do the activity we got the hurtful feedback about, some of that shame we experienced early on will come up. Because we know this, consciously or otherwise, we avoid doing it -- and we excuse our avoidance by telling ourselves we "just aren't good at it."

This has been true for me when it comes to building stuff with my hands -- doing things like carpentry and metalwork. When I tried these activities as a kid, I made some mistakes, and heard that I couldn't do these things because I "had no common sense."

The upshot has been that I've largely avoided "working with my hands," except in the sense of typing on the keyboard. Instead, I've gravitated toward "working with" abstractions like law, philosophy and spirituality -- which I'm supposedly "better at."

How I Played To My Weaknesses

So, I'll bet you can imagine my anxiety when I volunteered to build houses with a local organization. I not only expected to mess something up and get accused of lacking common sense -- perhaps a house I worked on might collapse, due to my incompetence, and hurt someone.

Of course, none of this happened. The people I worked with were nothing but understanding and appreciative. And, as far as I know, the houses I took part in building are still standing. But I'll keep reading the local news just in case.

Anyway, the bigger point is that I was going through life assuming I was "just bad at" building things, when in fact my stumbling block was shame and my unwillingness to feel it -- not a lack of skill or talent.

I think it's great to get a sense of what we're naturally good at, and cultivate our strong areas. But I also get the sense that, by exploring our so-called "weak points," we can learn about gifts we have to offer the world that we may not have been aware of before.