When a strength is really a weakness
Here’s a high-quality problem: When you are someone who is multi-talented, resourceful, and super capable, people notice. They want you on their team. They want your help. They want to be able to depend on you—because you are the kind of person who comes through.
You’re a team player, so you’ll pitch in to do what needs to be done. You don’t ask yourself, “What would I most like to do?” but rather, “What do you need?”
Because you enjoy helping others. It feels natural to you. And it feels good to know that you’re valued. Plus, you get rewarded for it—be it money, praise, recognition or love.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that us team-players-who-have-many-strengths can be weakened by the very strengths we are rewarded for having.
I speak from experience, y’all. This was the story of my life for many, many years. There were significant parts of my professional life that sucked (the life right out of me) for a long time.
I’d love to save you the trouble of continuing down that path if you know all too well what I’m talking about.
Let’s start with how we’re defining “strengths.” Most of my life, I understood my strengths to be my talents, skills, or natural ability. Even hard-earned unnatural ability. If I was good at something, it was a strength.
I’ve since adopted a definition that serves me much more. I first heard it attributed to Marcus Buckingham, who suggests that strengths are activities we do that make us feel strong.
The first time I heard this, it was like a gong had been struck deep within me. I felt the resonance in every cell, as if millions of my little cells had just looked at each other with raised eyebrows, whispering, “Holy shit! Did you just hear that?”
For those of us who have spent our lives trying so hard to be strong, valuable, and integral to the teams we’re a part of—it’s a revelation.
And a RELIEF.
For it takes a lot of energy to maintain strengths that weaken us. It’s bloody exhausting. And it dims our light.
This is the metaphor I like to use: Imagine yourself as a Human Light with a dimmer switch. On any given day, that switch can move up, down, or stay where it is depending on the choices you make.
You can agree to do things that you’re good at doing, or be a role you’re good at being. You can “succeed” and deliver what you’ve agreed to provide. The cost is that your switch moves down and your light dims accordingly.
You can also choose to do or be something that makes you feel stronger, whether you’re good at it or not. The effect is usually immediate and noticeable. For you brighten and look more alive. Your switch moves up.
Explained this way, it seems like it would be obvious and easy to simply stop what weakens you and instead choose what energizes you.
Were it so, I wouldn’t have anything to write here. Oh, but I do.
Here are a few key things I’ve learned about my own strengths:
1 // It is not selfish to choose what makes me feel strong—it’s actually quite generous.
For years, I would say yes to others and do what was needed because I was afraid to say no.
I was afraid of what would happen: I believed I would be rejected or discarded or fired. Then I wouldn’t have the resources or money I needed to provide for myself.
I was afraid of what it would mean about me: That really, I was an egocentric asshole who didn’t care about other people. I actually wasn’t a team player. I was not truly valuable, but replaceable.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the opposite is true.
When I chose to focus my time and energy on the things I that make me feel more alive, I produce better work. I am more creative. I have more energy. I have more to give. And I am a hell of a lot more pleasant to be around.
It’s generous for me to choose what gives me power. I’m brighter for it. More people can see me, for both who I really am and what I’m here to give.
2 // I’m not designed to do be good at everything and that’s a good thing.
When I think back on how hard I’ve been on myself to be good at all the things and strong all the time, I almost don’t know what to say.
I just want to give myself a hug. I’ve suffered so much for my good intentions and simply not knowing any better.
Especially now that I’m a solopreneur, I need to remind myself again and again of this simple truth. Humans are not designed to thrive on our own. We are designed to complement one another and depend on each other. This is a good thing. We’re wired for connection, not to “do it all” ourselves.
It took me a long time to realize I didn’t need to do everything just because it needed to get done. Being good at something didn’t mean it was a good idea for me to do it.
Now I practice choosing to spend my time and energy on things that make me feel more alive. I am much more powerful that way. I notice that I attract people who are strong where I am weak. We make great partners.
3 // I don’t need to be a better person, just better at the practice of being me.
For so long, I was hell-bent on bettering myself. I had an ideal of what a “better” person was, and I tried so hard to be her.
I studied and practiced and worked out and did so many things to be strong where I was weak, believing that if I could just be better than I was, I’d get everything I wanted: love, connection, influence, a good job and a great relationship.
I didn’t realize that I was rejecting my own brilliance. I was not put on this planet to be someone else. By discounting my innate strengths, which made me come alive, I was exhausting myself pursuing shit that made me feel weak and malfunctioning.
At my lowest point, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital because I didn’t know how to be me. I was utterly convinced I was taking up valuable space that should be better used by someone who was worth it.
In the ten years since, I’ve learned that the only thing I need to keep practicing is being who I really am. I practice paying attention to my own knowing, standing for my own truth, trusting my joy and creativity, and caring exquisitely for my body, mind and spirit.
I’ve found that my life works so much better when I am clear on my strengths (what energizes and brightens me) and my weaknesses (what depletes and dims me). Then I can choose to give what makes me feel alive and receive support from others who are strong where I am weak.
My wish for you is the wish I have for myself. That we remember: We get to choose. We each have our own dimmer switch and can choose what moves it—up or down. We can dim ourselves out of fear or shine brighter from love.
We get to choose.
Next right steps
If this all makes sense to you and you want to switch-up your strengths, grab something to write with.
Make a list of everything you can think of that makes you come alive—anything that gives you energy or makes you feel brighter.
How often are those things a part of your day-to-day life?
What percentage of time do you choose them?
Does the current structure of your life support your strengths (that which makes you feel strong)?
Now make a list of everything that dims your light—anything that drains or exhausts you, or that you dread doing/being.
How often would you say you are dimming your light? Daily? Weekly?
How many of these things do you need to do yourself?
Can you take at least one on your list and come up with a new way to approach it that doesn’t drain you?
What would your life look like at full power?
If you’re hell-bent on shining bright
All I can say is, me too. I want to hear all about it. For the time being, I am offering something called a Spark Session. It’s just you and me for a two-hour deep-dive into who you are on this planet to be. We’ll get clear on your the type of light you’re here to bring into the world and find out what’s getting in the way of you going full-power.
This will soon be priced at $500, so I very much encourage you to apply right now, while I’m offering it as a gift. >>> Check out the Spark Session