Finding my Growth Edge

The latest project in the LeadWise class was the hardest for me by far — and it turned out, in the end, I had been going about it entirely backwards.

The assignment was to find our personal “growth edge” by working through an “immunity to change” exercise. The basic idea of the exercise is simple enough:

  1. Choose a specific area in which you want to grow.
  2. Identify contradictory behaviors — things you’re doing that are at odds with your goal, or things you’re not doing that would support the goal.
  3. Identify competing commitments, and personal worries that you have about committing to that growth.
  4. Identify the core assumptions that are at the root of all your behaviors.

As soon as I started this project, I began to feel despair and frustration. The truth is, I’ve done this, or minor variations of it, more than once, and it has never helped me. Still, this course is important to me, and I had to least give it a shot.

The first step is to pick an area for growth. This ought to be easy: I know where my weak points are. Here are two easy ones: I have a strong tendency to procrastinate, and I’m really bad at developing and maintaining personal relationships.

The problem is, I’ve spent years trying to address these issues already, as well as other personal challenges, without any real change. As I discussed this frustration with my peers and got feedback from them, I started to realize one assumption that has driven my behavior: that I should strive to be a well-rounded person, by dedicating time and energy to improving my greatest weaknesses. But, what if that’s not true?

What if I were dyslexic, and I decided that my “growth edge” was to improve my reading speed and accuracy? There wouldn’t really be much I could do. Maybe it’s ok to accept my weaknesses, and build a life that plays to my strengths instead. Maybe what I’ve been thinking of as a “growth edge” is actually a “growth dead-end.” How much more could I accomplish if I stopped pouring so much energy into doing what’s hardest for me, and instead focused that same energy on efficiently taking advantage of my strengths?

Of course, I can’t neglect my weaknesses entirely — but on closer inspection, my problems are not as bad as they seem.

Social skills, of course, are necessary. A life with no friends and no professional contacts would not be a very happy or effective one. However, I don’t have to be great at networking and making new friends, or even average at it — I only have to be just good enough, so that my stronger skills can carry me forwards from there.

And as for productivity — I struggle greatly to do tedious chores like laundry, dishes, and shopping — but so do many people I consider highly productive, effective people. I tend to leave important work until the last minute, and often complete it late — but the same could be said for many successful writers and thinkers.

I’ve thought for years that until I mastered these “basic” skills, it would be reckless for me to try to do anything more ambitious — but the truth is, I can spend hours performing much more difficult and intellectually challenging labor, and even enjoy it, and still think of myself as “failing” because while I did a good job on this difficult work, I let the dishes pile up in my sink.

After all that, I finally realized my problem: my real “growth area” is exactly the opposite of what I thought it was! That was the breakthrough I needed to complete the project. It’s clear that the assumptions that have been shaping my behavior need to be challenged in order for me to move forward.

Immunity to Change Map

  • Growth area: Learn to build a life and strategy for work that plays to my strengths, and don’t worry about my weaknesses — I just need to be “good enough.”
  • Contradictory behaviors: Obsessive focus on being a “well-rounded” person; trying to be above average in every single aspect of my life.
  • Worries: What if I fail at something that is important to me, because my weaknesses are so weak that it doesn’t matter how strong my strengths are?
  • Competing commitments: Being a “normal adult:” Cooking, cleaning, shopping, being active on social media, going to parties, building and maintaining a large network of personal and professional relationships, and so on.
  • Hidden assumptions: To be successful, I must master those competing commitments. Until I get all that stuff under control, it’s reckless to “waste” time and energy on projects that are personally fulfilling and meaningful.