When “Weakness” Turns into a Strengthening Agent

Do you know of that little phenomenon that happens when we get asked, “What’s your weakness?” Sometimes, the thing is that it doesn’t matter what the weakness is, exactly, but how you choose to answer that question.

“I am too [fill in the blank].”

A lot of times, we want to answer this question by filling in that blank with a strength. “I am too diligent.” or “Oh, I am just too punctual.”

The objective of my spiel is not to tell you what you should say in a given “What are your weaknesses?” probe. The purpose here is to suggest ways in which you can understand that weakness is not something that will always hold you back in all circumstances — -It’s actually a catalyst.

Let me give you a situational example:

My previous job was one that I confidently view as the one that “stretched” my comfort zone out. There were several annual fairs and conferences that catered to students and professionals in higher education. We helped provide resources that enabled success in academic research and professional networking.

My first huge event with the previous position I held comes to mind. Graduate schools and companies from all around the U.S. were vendors, creating a guest-list for us of about a hundred people. Then, add all the student members and faculty of our STEM organization. It brought the total up to about 200 attendees, if I’m remembering correctly. The type of person that I was — and still am — felt drained being around large crowds for several hours at a time. I knew I didn’t want people to know that I wanted to work alone for the remainder of the day, avoiding the rest of the required event, so…I labeled that a “weakness” in me. It wasn’t a very positive thought, but…I knew I would have to at least ‘shed a little skin’ to effectively do my job and help make the event productive for those involved.

I knew my sweaty palms, quickened heartbeat, dread, awkward small talk and my little wish to remain a loner could not be avoided — It happened to me all the time in social situations. In the tizzy of thoughts, I suddenly proclaimed to myself, “I need to rise to the occasion.”

I mean…How would that happen though?

I required myself to think about these things:

  1. Common Ground - Every person in the room (including me) was attending this event for a purpose. I realized we had some facts in common about each of us, though: We came to the same event. We all wanted to take advantage of the resources within the event in some way. Thinking about that calmed me down a notch because I was becoming even more knowledgeable over the context in which the impending exchange of business cards would happen.
  2. Goals/What I’m Putting into Practice I realized that these duties caused vendors, and myself, to ‘put a name to a face’. They’d know the context for which I came to say “hello”, why I’m informing them of the complementary lunch, and the free parking offering. Attempting to establish good rapport was my goal that day. I got to practice it a hundred times over, meeting and greeting each guest.

So, all of what I required myself to mull over was my way of recognizing what I say as a “weakness” within myself, essentially using it as a springboard. I jumped up and over…past the anxiety, as if trying to master the pole vault.

I learned the following things:

I accept myself as a shrinking violetone that recognizes the shyness, but gets to experience the joy of jumping outside of comfort zones in order to fulfill the aspects of (in this case) my job. I knew that I was not naturally a mingler, outspoken, or some force of congeniality, but I realized that I had much room to grow. I made up in my mind that I, the shrinking violet, will adapt to situations that require effective spoken communication/correspondence. I realized that I’d be showing ‘range’… You’d see the shy, quiet one that ultimately got into character in order to accomplish certain responsibilities. (Trust me. I used to be the one that’d disappear in an instant or implode right there in the midst of what was happening if it meant I had to do any form of public speaking or interact with large, unfamiliar crowds.)

My weakness….in all of my years of living may’ve finally become my strengthening agent. I didn’t think it was possible before, so I was very thankful for that last job.

Think of yourself as — maybe a chameleon, or even a venus fly trap. Blossom (and bite) when people least expect it. Remind yourself that your perceived “weakness” does not have to be a perpetual aspect of your personality that defines all of your actions in every situation. It’s, instead, a force that allows capacity to grow.


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