Focus On Your Weaknesses? Forget It!

Let’s jump into the strengths vs weaknesses debate I hear “the gurus” discuss. The opinions range among: focus on your weaknesses to make them strong; ignore your strengths; ignore your weaknesses; focus on your strengths. Eegads! Which way do you turn with that kind of discussion going on around you?

Before I delved into my strengths and really appreciated them for what they are, I floundered for the longest time, struggling with my weaknesses and not knowing which way to go. Fortunately, I found several career paths along the way I enjoyed and that helped me quit floundering. But not completely.

My strengths include things like juggling lots of details toward a specific end, connecting with and serving people, solving puzzles, traveling, sewing, “spatial orientation”, and guiding people on their life path. My weaknesses include things like bookkeeping, marketing, hand-eye coordination activities, public speaking, grammar, and following rules blindly.

So, if I were to approach my career and jobs on the “Focus on your weaknesses to make them strong” approach, I’d most likely end up feeling like a failure; I’d not want to go to work because I’d fear I’d be criticized for the poor quality work I put out. How do I know that? Because I’ve had those jobs and experienced that feeling of being inadequate. Focusing on weaknesses undermines confidence rather than build it. Why go through life feeling undermined and inadequate?!

When I started into my professional life, I became a scientist, because I was raised thinking members of our family were scientists, but that was the path of “Ignore your strengths”. I’d wanted to become a decorator after high school, but was disallowed. While I loved science and was good at it, I was drawn more to non-science things so did them as hobbies instead of jobs. Life was ok, but I felt stuck and less than satisfied. Ignoring my strengths had me stuck in career paths that didn’t build my confidence nor did they lead to full success and joy.

Frankly, I never thought about my strengths or weaknesses in my early professional life, so the concept of “Ignore your weaknesses” never occurred to me. It sounds lovely in some ways, but not necessarily realistic. By ignoring weaknesses you blunder around and have hit and miss successes. That doesn’t seem satisfying, and life should be satisfying.

When I finally learned about the “Focus on your strengths” approach to career, I found success and joy! When you can perform your work easily and smoothly — when you feel competent — there’s immense satisfaction and peace in your day.

As I developed my understanding of ADD, I came to understand that many — most, maybe? — ADDers are shamed for their weaknesses rather than praised for their strengths. That helped me understand why my early career wasn’t positive or successful. My bosses and supervisors kept focusing on my weaknesses rather than on my strengths.

Let me see if I can put this discussion into a fairy tale analogy. Ignoring your weaknesses is like being one of Cinderella’s stepsisters while trying to fit into Cinderella’s glass slipper — something that just wouldn’t fit — rather than finding the glass slipper that does fit them (focus on your strengths). It wasn’t about the glass slipper, it was about being with the Prince (focusing on your weaknesses because you aren’t the Prince’s type). Who were they trying to fool, anyway? If they’d paid attention to the real issue, they could have found their own true love (focusing on their strengths). The same holds true for any of us who try to be something (or someone) we aren’t and to pursue things that aren’t right for us.

As I’ve built my business, I’ve incorporated my strengths into what I do. And here’s the kicker: I’m learning to improve on skills that I’ve considered weaknesses when I’ve needed them. Yes, I could have ignored them and either have a void in my business or hired that work out, but as a DIYer I want to learn those skills.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make a career of the skills that are my weaknesses. I do want to be as well-rounded and self-sufficient as I can be, though. And, by the way, some weaknesses are just untrained strengths! Like public speaking.

Curious about the jobs I’ve had that I felt were using my strengths? Teletype operator, special events manager, computer programmer, B&B innkeeper, Realtor, coach. I’m adding public speaking and travel guide to my repertoire too — learning as I go.

Here’s where I stand on the debate: follow your strengths, and strengthen the weaknesses you need as you go along. Focus on your positives. You’ll be more successful and happier for it.

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