Tough day today. Dental appointment, tough for me because I have an irrational phobia about having dental work done (completely unfounded; that's the "irrational" part). So I got little sleep in advance of my procedure, which of course turned out to be not so bad. Although the stress of the day and the residual ache in my jaw makes me doubly tired tonight. But on to my topic:
In my New Year's Resolution post I wrote that you should "...attack your weakness."
Reader David Littlejohn responded: "Having worked for several years in the Performance Management practice in corporate HR, I would respectfully disagree. We always recommend that people push their strengths. Identify the things that you are good at (these are the things that generally differentiate you from others around you) and work to get even better at them.
"The only time you should concentrate on a weakness is if it a show-stopper, a career killer. Otherwise, spend your time pushing your strengths."
On further reflection, I think David's right, and that I should retract my previous position. Life is too short to spend too much time butting your head against things you're no good at. The only time it makes sense to attack your weakness is where there's some clear concept of completeness that needs to be addressed: for example, when Don Budge, the great American tennis player of the 1930s, secluded himself to work on his backhand, at the time his greatest weakness. It eventually became one of his greatest strengths, and completed his game.
We do have a tendency to respect and value what we're not good at, and downplay or undervalue our strengths. What we're good at comes easily to us, so it can seem less important, less "earned"—as if "anybody can do that." We might might mistakenly aspire to excel in a field that's difficult for us, imagining that there's greater glory in it. But playing to our strengths is how we make it possible to reach greater heights of accomplishment. And accomplishment is hard enough, really.
Just make sure "strength" does not equal "rut," is all.
...And now, rest.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Darin McCauley: "One man's rut is another man's groove."
Featured Comment by George Barr: "In the corporate world, it is unlikely that the majority of people will be able to sufficiently improve their weaknesses (which are often ingrained and related to personality) to make a significant difference.
"In photography, as in tennis, having a significant weakness, your poor backhand or a deficiency in skills of , say, seeking out wonderful colour, or composing strongly, or making sure your images tell a story, or any number of other deficiencies will lead to significantly poorer images.
"In business, others can make up for your deficiencies, in photography as in tennis, you are the only one holding the racquet or camera—you have total responsibility—no assistants, no secretaries, no detail people.
"No, I think you were correct in your original ideas Michael."
[George Barr is the author of the recent Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images, Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special, and Why —Ed.]
Featured Comment by Ben Rosengart: "My gut feeling, and I know that this seems crazy, is that both are good advice."
Mike replies: I came to the same conclusion last night. I depends on each person and what they're doing now and what they need. I sometimes conceive of myself as a teacher manqué, and surely one of the deficiencies of this format—a blog with a sizeable audience—is that there can be no "individual conferences" so to speak. I'm quite sure the proper advice is not universal. That's our problem here.
Featured Comment by Dave Karp: "I agree, and don't. It's the 'always' part. [Note that Dave is responding to the main post, not to the paragraph I wrote just above, which he hadn't seen when he wrote his comment. (I hadn't seen his when I wrote mine, either.) —Ed.]
"If your weakness is unimportant (in other words, truly irrelevant) then I agree.
"But so many of us avoid dealing with an important weakness, and justify it by saying that it is irrelevant. When someone else has a strength that targets your weakness (imagine you were a photographer in 1998 who had limited computer skills, or did not understand digital cameras and your clients started leaving you for photographers with a broader range of skills), or when you have a chance to take advantage of an opportunity that comes your way, but a weakness prevents or inhibits you from doing so (you want a new job but you don't have adequate computer skills), you can suffer.
"I often think of this when I deal with students who have not learned how to effectively convey their thoughts in writing. It is time, while they are at school, to eliminate that weakness.
"'Always' is a tough word."
Mike adds: Your comment about writing skills reminds me of an old witticism: poor written expression makes you mimic an imbecile to others. Of course, writing is one of my strengths, so I would think that.
Featured Comment by Player: "As a counterpoint to Don Budge, Roger Federer was quoted saying: 'I have never believed in working on my weaknesses. My serve and my forehand are my strengths and I work on them to get better.' Yet both Budge and Federer were wildly successful players. In 1938 Budge was the first and youngest player to accomplish the Grand Slam (winning all four majors in a calender year). Federer, who is generally acknowledged as the greatest player ever, never achieved a Grand Slam although he has won all four majors: Australian, French, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open."
Featured Comment by Mark Hespenheide: "As a former bicycle racer, a truism of the sport is that you 'train your weaknesses and race your strengths.'
"I take this to mean that you should work on the things that you aren't good at, but when the metaphorical chips are down, play to your strengths.
"I would also point out that many of us haven't seriously tried the things we're really not good at.... A colleague once invited me to try photographing dance performances when he had seen my landscape photography. The two genres are nearly diametric opposites. I was frustrated for the first year or two of working at it, but now it's almost a second love with a very different skill set."
Featured Comment by Michael Roche: "Concentrating on one's strengths is a common cause of underachievement in amateur golf (club level, not low handicap or scratch level). Very few high handicap golfers pay enough attention to the short game, where most shots are lost, and instead tend to practice the long game, which tends to be the better part of their game, and thus spend most of their golfing days returning higher scores than they would had they a reasonable short game. I include myself in this catagory."
Featured Comment by drnslater: "...And if your strength is dentistry and your weakness photography...? !!"