By John Sonmez September 15, 2014

Don’t Focus on Your Strengths

Guys, guys, guys… (and gals)

I think we are starting to becoming a little “wussy”–all of us–no offense.

I've found the most success in my life by working on my weaknesses and making them strengths. Why? Because, when you make a weakness into a strength you appreciate it more and you are more committed and dedicated to improve it further.

A weakness that became a strength is a trophy; something you worked for

Golden trophy

It takes discipline, determination and focus to make a weakness into a strength. That means when you do it, you are much more likely to stay with it for the long term.

Strengths we tend to take for granted. We tend to follow our passions with strengths because they come naturally, but we don't feel as proud of our accomplishments because they come naturally.

And I'm not just saying this.

Honestly, I am naturally lazy, un-athletic, introverted, shy, and suck at written communication.

One day I decided to stop being un-athletic. So, I joined wrestling and track in high school and started lifting weights and running. Totally against my nerdy, weak, frail, fat, lazy nature. Now, it is one of my strengths and I stick with it because I put so much into it. I am dedicated.

Drawing and art comes naturally to me. Ever since I was little I could draw near perfect Marios and cartoons. No joke, I'll prove it sometime. Anyway, do I draw now? Do I develop that strength further? No. Sure, I could, but I lack the motivation, because I never had to work for it. I've got no true appreciation for it. Natural strengths we take for granted and we don't feel as good about because they aren't something we earned, they are something we were born with.

I'm not saying you never focus on your strengths, but what I am saying is this:

You are only as strong as your most limiting weakness. The whole weakest link thing. You can't just focus on your strengths, because you have to attack the problem at the bottleneck. Getting faster and faster CPU speeds does you no good when you have a slow hard drive.

Weakest Link

Also, the things that suck the most are usually the most beneficial for you. I feel like we've all become a bit soft lately–myself included. Sure, you can't go at 100% all of the time, but no success is ever achieved without hard work, discipline and most importantly commitment.

Commitment is the real killer. Sure, I can spend a day doing something I don't want to do. I can even make it a week, but can I do it day in and day out for a year? For a decade? It takes a long period of dedication and commitment to be successful. So many people stop just short of success.

Where does success come from?

The crappiest most painful things were the things that made me the most successful–and if you look carefully, I'm sure you'll find the same for yourself.

Don't forget where you came from. Don't forget about the hill you already climbed to get here now. Don't forget how many bargains with the devil you would have made perhaps just a few years ago to get where you are now and think carefully how you got here. The same way that you got here will be the same way that you get to there.

Or perhaps you aren't there yet. Perhaps you haven't even climbed that first hill yet. If so, what is stopping you? Are you afraid of doing some things you don't want to do? Maybe it's time to put on those coveralls, grab the shovel and shovel some manure.

A head-start will only take you so far

I know I've started to wander away from the point a little bit, but my point is that you aren't going to get by based solely on your strengths and if you try to focus on your strengths alone, you are going to find that you lack the commitment and follow-through to be successful.

I'm not saying to not use or develop your strengths–do that–but, just realize that the effort you put into developing your weaknesses–especially the ones that are holding you back the most–will probably pay you back the most in the long run.

Think of it this way: A strength or natural talent is like having a small head-start in a race. It's helpful and against equally strong competitors, it's an unbeatable advantage. But, in a really long race with competitors that have trained hard and developed their ability, that head-start means virtually nothing. If you rely on the head-start your strength is going to give you in life, you are eventually going to get passed.

Looking at it from another angle, you can become that person who doesn't have the head-start, but is a way better runner than someone who does. I know plenty of naturally talented people who end up doing nothing with that talent, because they never develop it beyond that initial head-start it gave them.

Who do you think will be a better musician in the long run, someone who has a natural talent for music and plays their instrument once a week or someone who is practically tone-deaf and practices for several hours every single day?

Again, I'm not saying to not use your strengths, but instead use them strategically. Use your strength to knock down the wall with one blow instead of chipping away at it. Augment your natural strength by developing ancillary strengths from your weaknesses that compliment it.

Also, use the development of your weaknesses as a way to develop skills that none of us are born with naturally. Self-discipline and patience must be developed and they can't be developed directly. They are always an indirect result of working on a weakness. You don't learn how to control yourself, focus and stay the course by doing something you enjoy. You learn it by doing something that feels like it is going to kill you.

(By the way, I know I keep plugging this book, but it really is one of the best books for getting your ass kicked and motivating you to power through, so if you haven't read The War of Art, do yourself a favor and get it and read it.)

Can you make up for a weakness?

Yeah, I know I am being a hard-ass. That's my job. If you want someone to sugarcoat things for you, you probably should go read another blog. I'm just telling you how it is.

What about focusing on your strengths and surrounding yourself with people who can help compensate for your weaknesses? This is a great idea, but it has its limits. You can't use this as a cheat code to keep yourself from fully developing your own character and discipline.

Sure, you can't be good at everything, but if you–for example–hire an accountant, because you suck at finances and don't understand money, guess what is going to happen to you? You are going to get ripped off and you won't even know it. I'm not saying you should do your own taxes or handle every job yourself, but before you hire someone for a job, you need to know how to do it yourself–and you have to even be a little bit good at it.

I've talked about this before, but you can't know how good someone is at something unless you are at least moderately good at that thing yourself. Trust me, I've made the mistake myself of trying to hire someone to make up for my weakness instead of working on the weakness and I've always regretted it. You can't cheat the system.

So, am I advocating burning yourself out, stretching yourself in so many directions that you just become mediocre at a lot of things instead of an expert at one?

By all means no. What I am saying is that instead of band-aiding over your weaknesses and trying to avoid them, you need to confront them directly–especially if they are stopping you from going down some path that could lead to your success.

I'm just trying to make you aware of the reality that natural strengths and head-starts in life don't mean much at all unless you happen to be 7 feet tall, in which case, you'll probably be an excellent basketball player. (But, even with that advantage without a lot of practice a shorter player will still be able to beat you.)

Two Basketball Player

So, to sum it all up. Be smart. Use your strengths but also develop your weaknesses. Don't just not do something or shy away from it because it is a perceived weakness for you. If you do that you'll be robbing yourself of the true opportunity to achieve meaningful personal growth. If you never deal with your weaknesses you'll be like that heavyweight boxer that can throw a powerful knock-out blow, but has a glass jaw.

If you'd like more developer-centric, hard-ass advice from a developer who cares about making you a better version of yourself and you'd like to join over 5,000 other developers who are part of the Simple Programmer community, sign up here. I'll occasionally try and sell you stuff, but I'll mostly kick you in the ass.

 

 

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."