Why our Strengths can become our Weaknesses — & What to do about It
“A genius in the wrong position could look like a fool.” ~ Idowu Koyenikan
I recently watched a movie called “The Promise.” It was about the genocide, almost a hundred years ago, of the Armenians in Turkey.
As soon as the film was over, I went to my laptop and researched everything I could about the Armenians’ plight. I’m not Armenian or Turkish, but the film got me interested in a chapter of history hitherto unfamiliar to me.
Seven years ago, I walked into a self-help seminar on the power of thinking by mistake. Not only did I finish the workshop and go on to read a few books on the subject, but within a few weeks I was also on a plane to Toronto to meet the author of those books, Bob Proctor.
When something excites me, there’s nothing I won’t do the satiate my curiosity.
I’m grateful for my curiosity and view it as one of my primary strengths, as it has taken me to places I didn’t know I could reach. I have systematically changed my life — from adhering firmly to society’s status quo to embodying aliveness and authenticity. I’ve changed many of my unhelpful beliefs and have explored countless aspects of the world that I never knew existed.
My curiosity has driven me to take up long-distance running in my mid-40s, walk on fire with Tony Robbins, study meditation, and learn Reiki healing. And it has pushed me to pursue an MFA in creative nonfiction writing.
I believe that when we focus on our strengths — and not our weaknesses — we are more likely to succeed, engage with life, and enhance our self-esteem.
We get the most joy from doing what we’re good at, so why don’t we do more of it?
However, my curiosity has also led me to spectacular failures, confusion, and sometimes depression. My overactive mind often wanders, as I quickly get bored with something that I already know and no longer makes me curious.
I’ve bought many books that I haven’t read. I have spent a lot of money on online programs — increasing blog traffic, launching your first book, getting to know your inner child — only to do a few sessions and abandon the plan. I went to San Diego, got certified in Brian Tracy’s Business coaching program, and paid a lot of money to secure the franchise… only to find out after a year that coaching wasn’t for me.
Our strengths can also be our weakness.
Prudence is an important trait, but if taken to the extreme may be limiting or boring. An entrepreneur must take risks, but they may end up being foolhardy. Being principled may also mean being judgmental. Too much fun may lead us to superficiality. Humility may allow others to mistreat us.
I truly believe that there can’t be strength without weakness, just as there can’t be light without darkness.
But how do we address this dilemma, when strengths and weakness are one and the same? When my curiosity can lead me to my greatest discoveries, yet also to so many failures, what should I do?
I have identified the following three steps that can prevent our strengths from turning into weaknesses:
It’s important to first recognize that our strengths can be our weakness. We must accept that the trait which is dominant within us can take us on a roller coaster ride just as my insatiable curiosity did to me. This simple realization makes it easier for us to stop questioning our trait and simply act with awareness of it. It’s as if we were born left-handed, and so we must adjust our ways to live accordingly.
I was born curious, and I need to know when it works for me and when it doesn’t. I need to always have my endgame in mind before allowing my curiosity to lead me down a rabbit hole.
I was recently invited to do a poetry course at a reduced price. I was just about to press the “Join” button when I reminded myself that I’m already in a demanding MFA course. I do not have the time, nor is poetry my focus right now.
2) Set boundaries
We need to set limits and boundaries so that our strengths don’t become self-defeating and lead us astray. We can’t always do what we love 24/7.
A good friend of mine, let’s call her Kate, has a wonderful personality. She is always in high spirits, with seemingly unbounded energy. But she consistently ends up solving her friends’ problems, and so they have managed to sap all her positive energy. I advised her to set boundaries and entertain her friends not on a daily basis, but only on selected days. She can then focus her energy in different areas, where her power is needed more and can meet with reciprocation.
3) Reflect and learn
After a significant event or project in our life, we can stop and reflect on where our strengths are taking us. We then have time to look back for any glaring signs from our intuition to stop.
For example, whenever I’m nervous about an upcoming event, like a speaking gig or an impending long trip, I start to get restless, my curiosity goes into overdrive, and I begin jumping from one idea to another. I’ve made it a point not to make any binding decisions during that time, because I now know that during this period my curiosity will get the better of me.
In Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “Song of Myself,” he writes, “I am Large, I Contain Multitudes.” We are both our strengths and our weaknesses. We are large. Our fragility is a door to our possibilities.
We can’t divide ourselves equally, but when we are aware, set boundaries and reflect on our so-called strengths and where they are taking us, then we learn how to use our strengths only in our favor.