I’m getting ready to take a master class riding lesson with a very skilled instructor I used ride with years ago. I was fortunate to snag a lesson with this guy earlier in the year, and as I was toodling around the arena this week, my current teacher asked me, “What do you think has improved since you last rode with Todd?”
Huh? Aren’t my myriad weaknesses of much greater import? How am I going to be the oldest perpetual beginner ever to win Olympic gold in the saddle if we don’t obsess on my many shortcomings?
And yet, to focus on weaknesses is bad, albeit venerable, pedagogy. Looking instead at strengths–on the things you know you do well, look forward to doing, and focus on easily and completely–results in better general job performance, better self-motivation, and better relationships with the people around you. You are happier and more fun to be with, in addition to being more productive.
I think about how much of my life I’ve spent trying to compensate for, overcome, and eliminate my weaknesses. How I struggled with trig and calculus (in both high school and college) though I’ve never used either one. How I wedged myself into business suits that were never going to flatter a woman with my endowments. How I went down in a hideous ball of flaming mortification trying to acquire the ability to perform at the piano in public. (It was awful, and I do mean awful to the hundredth power.)
I heard things like, “If only you could hack the math you could go into the sciences…” Or, “If you wore contacts, Mr. Right might notice you…” (Granted, that was 30 years ago, and from my mother.) “If you want the promotion, you have to look the part…” “You can’t get a teaching position in music if you can’t perform…” If, if, if, if…
In a society driven by the lie that all discomforts, ills, and anxieties can be eliminated if we buy or consume something, we all but lose sight of the the little old truth that we each have vast areas of abundant natural competence. Happy people involved in joyous careers are doubtless a lousy advertising demographic.
I love to write–love it like this is what I was born to do–and I should not have been 50 years old before it occurred to me that other people might enjoy reading my books. My siblings eventually made that suggestion–and thank heavens they did–but having kept a journal since before I could write cursive; having scored 200 points higher on my verbal SAT than on the math; having earned consistent, easy straight A’s in English; with a reading habit that ate up every spare minute… why did it NEVER occur to me that the joy I took in my native tongue was a really important signal about where I ought spend my time and energy?
Why? Because I was too busy fretting over differential equations, which–to this day–make my eyes to cross and my blood to boil.
What were you born to do? What are you just naturally good at? When did you figure that out? Did somebody help you to see it or like me, did you go down in roaring flames trying to become something you’re not? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card.