Our strengths and weaknesses are an integral part of who we are. We tend to think of our strengths as a part of our resources, a part of our arsenal to win life. On the other hand, we think of weaknesses as impediments to our road, and we often chose to ignore them, hoping they won’t bother us. But what is the true meaning of these two concepts, and how do they relate and complement each other? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the question: what are your strengths? What about the most dreaded question of all: what are your weaknesses?
The First Question: What Are Your Strengths?
Have you gone to a job interview lately? Maybe not recently, but I’m sure at some point in your life you have. Or perhaps you went to an interview for college or other types of work that require you to sell yourself.
In those situations, has the interviewer asked you about your strengths? What was your answer?
Did you have a prepared list that you’d worked on in the past? Maybe you said something like, “I’m really good with technology,” “I work really well with people,” “I am timely,” and so on?
Or perhaps you didn’t have a list and had to come up with something on the spot. You eyeballed the guy or girl in front of you and thought, what would he or she like to hear? Maybe something about my ability to multitask. That sounds good. And priorities, too. I prioritize really well. I’m also a team player. Me and teams, we’re like this (and you hooked your index fingers together).
Your Strengths Are Not Your Skills
It doesn’t really matter what you answered, truth be told. Even if you didn’t know what to say and mumbled something, it doesn’t matter. Because none of those are your strengths; those are the things you are good at. They represent your performance.
The things you are good at are not the same as your strengths, and that’s a hard thing to accept because the two terms can, indeed, be used interchangeably because of the versatility of the word ‘strengths.’
But in the realm of human character, strength is not something you are good at. Instead, a strength is something that strengthens you. When you perform that activity or when you are in a specific situation, you feel energized. Your body, mind, and soul are in harmony. You are in your element, and nothing seems to be able to pull you out of that ‘zone.’
Your strengths are the things that, if given an option, would be the only things you’d do.
On the other hand, the things you are good at are your skills. Your skills are learned; your strengths are not.
Your Strengths – The Things that Make You Stronger
Let’s take an example and use the most dreaded activity of all—public speaking. In case you didn’t know, the fear of public speaking is so widely spread that there’s an actual name for it—glossophobia.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of glossophobia, some people absolutely love public speaking. You’ve seen them on TV—Guys like Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs—people who seem to have a knack for it natively. Let me ask you this: do you think they were born being so good at it? Note that there’s a difference between genuinely enjoying something and being good at it.
I love to play the guitar. It would be my wildest dream to be on a stage and rock the crap out of that guitar. And I do own a guitar—actually, two of them. However, there’s one tiny little problem—I don’t know how to play the guitar. And although I think I might enjoy and feel energized on stage, in fact, I might not. I’d probably freeze and act like an idiot. The beliefs and ideas about what I think are my strengths do not become real until I experience that activity and observe whether it’s an energy booster or drainer.
Nevertheless, there will be things that you enjoy doing or think you might enjoy doing, and they should give you strength and energy, but you don’t possess the skills to perform them. On the other hand, you might be really skilled at something you despise. I think cooking is an excellent example of this; I’ve met dozens of people who produce incredible culinary artworks, but they hate every moment they spend in the kitchen.
So, being good at something doesn’t mean that you draw energy from it. Ask any attorney or financial broker who gave up a successful career in their field because they absolutely hated it and took a completely different route.
Finding Your Strengths
But let’s get back to strengths for a moment: If we agree that they are not the things that we are good at, then what are they? Just saying that they are the things that strengthen you is too obscure to understand.
The good thing is that many scientists have spent a lot of time studying this subject over the past few decades. There are a few places that have created a comprehensive list of strengths with detailed descriptions and explanations and have developed tests for them.
They are CliftonStrengths 34 and the VIA Institute of Character. There are others, but these are the ones I want to focus on because of their in-depth research and widespread popularity.
The lists of strengths for these two are slightly different but very closely related. CliftonStrengths 34 gives you a list of thirty-four character strengths, while VIA has twenty-four character strengths.
Both follow a similar methodology, so I suggest choosing either one of them. The tests are not free; at the time of this writing, they are both about $50. However, I think it’s paramount for everyone to take one of these tests at least once in their lifetime. Because your strengths don’t vary a lot at the core, you can probably take the test, and its results will be valid for at least a decade. Of course, if your life changes radically, you might discover new strengths and new weaknesses, but for the time being, having a starting point is a good idea.Remember that your strengths are not the things you are good at. They're the things that strengthen you. Click To Tweet
Should You Really Care What Your Strengths Are?
The need to know your strengths goes beyond creating a resume or answering a few questions from a recruiter. It’s important to know because you will use your strengths to accomplish your goals. They are a critical part of your arsenal.
The idea is to identify your list of top strengths and reflect upon them by thinking about the past times when these strengths have manifested. Once you see them on paper, it will start to click.
By understanding your strengths, you will begin to find ways to practice them and use them more often. Sharpening those strengths over time, and adding new skills and knowledge around them, will make you a stronger, more capable person, which is a vital ingredient for being a more successful human being.
But… and there’s always a but. You must not forget about the anti-strengths, a.k.a your weaknesses.
Your Weaknesses – The Things that Hold You Back
Okay, so now we know a little bit about strengths. With that in mind, let me ask you, what are your weaknesses?
I know, you guessed it—they are the things that weaken you. They are not the things that you are bad at.
The things that you are bad at consist of the skills that you lack or simply perform poorly. Unlike the concept of lacking ability, weaknesses are the things that draw energy out of you.
To use the same example as above, which you’ll probably connect with more quickly, think about public speaking again. As I am writing this, just the thought of stepping on a stage and seeing all those eyes on me gives me the shivers, and not the good kind of shivers. I’m talking about shivers of the sort that make you want to melt into the floor and disappear. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.
Turning Weaknesses into Strengths
So let’s talk about converting your weaknesses into strengths, but before you start thinking about it, let me stop you right there—you can’t.
Yep, this was a bait and switch title. You cannot turn your weaknesses into strengths, no matter how much you try.
What you can do, though, is develop skills that allow you to work around your weaknesses. In time you can learn how to leverage your strengths to overcome those weaknesses. But genuinely turning a strength into a weakness is not possible.
Let’s say you have a great sense of humor and an ability to create a rapport with people. Making others laugh is a strength for you. So then, as you step on a stage to talk to people, perhaps your opener should be an excellent joke. As people in the audience burst into laughter, you get a boost of energy. You start to connect with the audience. Now you are gaining new energy to balance the draining energy from just being there. You are using strength to overcome a weakness.
That is a great skill to have, but one that is very difficult to master. It’s difficult because you usually get a psychosomatic reaction that exacerbates your feelings further and clouds your mind when you are in weakening situations. You then start to focus on how you appear to the outside world. You are worried, and your anxiety goes through the roof.
Learn the Weakness’ Cues
So it’s not unusual that you don’t have the mental energy to lean into one of your strengths in such situations. You break down. But, with practice and over time, you can develop that skill.
What you need to do is observe what happens to you in those weakening situations. Focus on what you are thinking at that moment. What are your beliefs? How do you feel physically? What is the story revolving around in your mind?
All those things are cues. They’re signals that you are about to go deep into the fear and anxiety and frustration, or whatever else those situations bring out in you. By training your awareness and catching yourself in those moments, you start to anticipate them.
This anticipation is critical. If you take a Tylenol at the very first hint of a headache, you probably won’t get the full-blown pain. But if you wait until the headache sets in, it might take a lot longer for the medicine to kick in.
It’s the same with the way weaknesses act upon you. The quicker you learn their cues, the faster you can react and shift your mind to a different place.
How To Practice Overcoming Weaknesses?
So learning how to work around your weaknesses should be done in a few steps:
- Train your awareness by doing self-reflection more often and asking for critical feedback from others.
- Observe the cues that tell you that weakness is about to derail you.
- Identify replacing habits that are supported by your strengths to overcome the reactions from the weakness.
- Keep repeating 2) and 3) until you master them.
Understand that some people who seem to be good at speaking in public still dread it. Some writers who submit their work to agents they’ve worked with for years still pause before hitting the send button. That’s because the weakness is still there. But those who push through and go out onto that stage or send their work out for review have learned how to overcome those weaknesses and do it anyway. They have managed to challenge their values and belief systems and replace those limiting beliefs with empowering beliefs.
This is what I mean when I say that weaknesses cannot indeed be turned into strengths; your weaknesses will always be there, and they will keep messing with you. As you get exposed to more and more things and you encounter richer experiences, you will discover new weaknesses that you had no idea you had.
If you want to, learning how to cue yourself to fire up a strength when a weakness is about to take over might be interpreted as a way to turn that weakness into a strength. You have transitioned the power it has over you and made it a cue to lean into the strength. And that’s very powerful.
Paraphrasing David Goggins, you are callusing your mind. You are becoming immune to those weaknesses, which opens up space for you to use your strengths.
How To Identify Your Weaknesses
Step one is to identify your strengths, as explained above. Next, look at the list starting from the bottom up. The items on the strengths list where you scored the least are reliable indicators of a possible weakness. Identify those with a separate marker or symbol.
Step two is to do some self-reflection. You must go back in time and remember those moments when you felt absolutely drained. Those times when you came out like a boxer who stepped into the ring against ten opponents and forgot his mouthguard. That kind of bad.
Recall what happened and begin to put two and two together. With the list of non-strengths and these items that you have identified through self-reflection, it won’t be tough to come up with a comprehensive list.
Think about activities or situations that genuinely frighten you. They are the things that make you say to yourself, “I would never do that even for a million dollars.” Picture some people you look up to and wish you could be like them, but you feel like you can’t do what they do.
Keep going through as many iterations as you need until you come up with a list.
Once you have that, of course, prioritize it. You do that by choosing the top weaknesses that affect your life the most today, not in the past. Since your life has changed, you’ve grown, and since your overall circumstances are different, your weaknesses act differently today. So focus on the present and prioritize the list for your life today.Remember that your weaknesses are not the things you are bad at. They're the things that weaken you. Click To Tweet
Should You Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?
The big question is: What should your focus be? Should you focus on sharpening your strengths or overcoming your weaknesses? The answer is not simple, and it depends.
I firmly believe that putting a lot of emphasis on your strengths is paramount. Practicing and sharpening them over time is a critical step in becoming stronger.
So, as an overarching focus in your life, I believe that strengths should take center stage. The weaknesses should be second but not ignored. Left untouched, they will mess with your path later and even hinder your ability to practice your strengths. You need to be deeply aware of your weaknesses and learn how to work around them, as explained above. But your general focus, I believe, should be on your strengths.
There is one exception, though, and that is when a weakness of yours is so prevalent that it becomes a real impediment to your life or profession. For example, let’s say that you are working for a company, and your goal is to rise in the ranks to the level of VP. One of your most significant weaknesses is doing presentations in front of people, especially senior management. If that’s the case, you need to shift your focus to overcoming that weakness right away, ahead of everything else.
The same goes for your personal life, including your marriage, your relationships, and your friendships.
If you can identify one or two weaknesses that are truly damning, and you know that they absolutely hinder your existence, address them first and fast, and know that you’ll have to keep doing it for the remainder of your life. Those weaknesses will crawl out from the back of your brain in moments of stress and anxiety. Your practice will go out the door, and the beast will grab you by the throat. Only through constant practice will you learn how to tame it and, in time, put it to sleep. It will never die, mind you, but at least you can shut it out and reclaim control in your life.
Strengths and Weaknesses – Conclusion
I believe that the exercise of understanding your strengths and weaknesses should be done by all people as early as possible in their life. I started this process when I was in my late thirties, and I realize how many opportunities I have lost since I got out of college just because I had missed this step.
The self-awareness about your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to create goals aligned with your core and guide you by creating the proper practice plan for yourself. By learning how to leverage your strengths and harden your skin to withstand your weaknesses, you will become a stronger person over time.
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What are some common answers you give when asked about your weaknesses?
- When in your life have you felt like you managed to overcome a weakness.
- What is your top strength, and how does it manifest in your life?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!