On Playing To Our Weaknesses | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

On Playing To Our Weaknesses

We hear a lot in personal development circles about how it’s important to “play to our strengths,” instead of wasting time trying to improve our “weak” areas.  I want to rethink that notion a bit in this post.

It’s probably true that we all have our natural aptitudes.  It’s hard to dispute, for example, that some people are born with body types that make them better athletes.

But sometimes, when we see ourselves as “bad” at some activity, it’s simply because we don’t like the way we feel when we’re doing it — not because of any inborn lack of talent.

The Making Of A “Weak Point”

Early in life, many of us heard — sometimes in a harsh or mean-spirited way — that we weren’t good at something.  For example, maybe we tried to paint, and heard that we had no artistic talent.  Or perhaps we were the last kids to get picked for the sports teams at school, and we decided we weren’t athletically inclined.

The result is that, today, if we do the activity we got the hurtful feedback about, some of that shame we experienced early on will come up.  Because we know this, consciously or otherwise, we avoid doing it — and we excuse our avoidance by telling ourselves we “just aren’t good at it.”

This has been true for me when it comes to building stuff with my hands — doing things like carpentry and metalwork.  When I tried these activities as a kid, I made some mistakes, and heard that I couldn’t do these things because I “had no common sense.”

The upshot has been that I’ve largely avoided “working with my hands,” except in the sense of typing on the keyboard.  Instead, I’ve gravitated toward “working with” abstractions like law, philosophy and spirituality — which I’m supposedly “better at.”

How I Played To My Weaknesses

So, I’ll bet you can imagine my anxiety when I volunteered to build houses with a local organization.  I not only expected to mess something up and get accused of lacking common sense — perhaps a house I worked on might collapse, due to my incompetence, and hurt someone.

Of course, none of this happened.  The people I worked with were nothing but understanding and appreciative.  And, as far as I know, the houses I took part in building are still standing.  But I’ll keep reading the local news just in case.

Anyway, the bigger point is that I was going through life assuming I was “just bad at” building things, when in fact my stumbling block was shame and my unwillingness to feel it — not a lack of skill or talent.

I think it’s great to get a sense of what we’re naturally good at, and cultivate our strong areas.  But I also get the sense that, by exploring our so-called “weak points,” we can learn about gifts we have to offer the world that we may not have been aware of before.

27 thoughts on
On Playing To Our Weaknesses

  1. Patricia

    I just reviewed a book written by a psychological researcher whose field of study was shame…it is just about this very same point…When she was interviewing thousands of people for her research project she kept finding folks who were wholehearted about living…so wrote this new book about how they achieved this outcome….The book is called The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brown….you can win a copy from my blog between now and Oct 30th…when the drawing is…really excellent material, but on this very point…

    One must make peace with the weaknesses and the strength and discover how they fully work to build one’s life and energy.

    I agree with you on this idea/concept. It is vital work if we are to remain open and growing peoples

    I am sure your houses have not fallen down…they were built with strength…and carrying very reliable building materials

  2. Evan

    Hi Chris, I too was told I was no good with my hands. Which seemed largely true until I was in a drop-in-centre where they taught leather stamping. I found I was good at it – and was tempted to not do it as well as I could to show I wasn’t good with my hands. Later I found Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (excellent in my view) and found that I could draw too (it was my sister who was meant to be the artistic one).

    Neither leatherwork nor drawing held my interest, but I did learn that we are usually capable of more things than we believe.

  3. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. we never know until we try .. and we should give things at least two tries .. if not perhaps more .. as a child I was really ‘hopeless’ .. I guess they’d say .. pretty awful at academia and so went to secretarial college – didn’t fit anywhere else (glad now!) .. and reasonable at ball games .. which kept me in good stead.

    But look at someone blossom .. my 2nd try at writing .. and my first one wasn’t trying – I had no choice and was considered useless .. good at spelling though. Not sure where the change came .. but it sure manifested itself along the way .. but then you need that 3rd go perhaps .. the opportunity to ‘put it out there’ and see the reaction ..

    The internet offers so many opportunities .. and I have Betty Edward’s Drawing book packed away after my move .. because I’d love to draw .. perhaps I can really do that too .. who knows .. til we try .. once, twice or even thrice ..

    & any try is never a failure .. we’ve learnt something, and we know where to start next time and perhaps what to eliminate .. like public speaking .. I’m just going to do Toastmasters .. – life changes .. and now I’m playing to my many weaknesses .. that I suspect will be my strengths ..

    Thanks Chris .. interesting thoughts .. we can all do so much .. if we give it a go .. Hilary

  4. Sara

    Chris — This is a very important thing to think about. In my case, it has always been sports. The only sport I felt good at was horseback riding, which I really don’t get to do anymore. Other sports I struggled with…things like tennis, golf …mainly because I was always told I didn’t have good eye-hand coordination. So, I stopped trying them. I’m still leery of trying, but I like what you said in this post. I guess will not know unless I try. My boyfriend who loves golf has been trying to get me to give it a go…maybe I will.

    On another note, one of the things I really enjoy about reading your posts is your sneaky humor. It will pop up now and then and make smile. Today, it was these line, “And, as far as I know, the houses I took part in building are still standing. But I’ll keep reading the local news just in case.” I’m still laughing:~)

  5. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    Hi Chris – Absolutely, positively agree with you. I was told early on that I couldn’t sing, but as it turned out, I can. And the thing I notice with clients is that they’re not that interested in the skills they already have; rather, they’re hungry to learn new skills, especially in the second half of life. There’s a natural inclination to want to round ourselves out, and move toward wholeness.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patricia — thanks for the book recommendation. Yes, I’m putting my faith in the reliability of the building materials to compensate for any lack of skill on my part.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — that’s interesting, that you were tempted not to do it well to confirm what you believed about your abilities — I also see often in myself and others the embrace of mediocrity in order to preserve a consistent sense of identity.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — that’s interesting — I definitely wouldn’t have thought of academic stuff as your weakness. :) And, I imagine that what you’re doing right now on your blog, with all its erudition, is a deep exploration of that supposedly “weak” area.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — glad I gave you a chuckle. I wonder what you’re concerned about when it comes to playing sports — are you going to totally embarrass yourself? I’ve certainly experienced that fear when it comes to, say, rock climbing, or anything that involves complicated equipment.

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Patty — yes, I feel like I’m in a “rounding myself out” phase myself. I’ve appreciated your willingness to share your singing talents with us.

  11. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. sad but true .. then – perhaps not now ..

    Yup . the weak area is being explored not to its full yet .. but boy is it not so weak now ..

    Sport as you & Sara are conversing about is fine .. ball games – eye hand co-ordination .. but don’t get me anywhere near anything else .. just ‘doesn’t work’ .. and horse riding – love to do that .. it’s a no no ..

    Enjoy the weekend .. Hilary

  12. Davina Haisell

    Hi Chris.

    I love the example you’ve used about you volunteering to help build houses. I think in this case the heart trumps talent. You were inspired to volunteer and whether or not you had the necessary skills or talents wasn’t an issue. Teamwork gave each person the opportunity to do what they were good at and to help those who didn’t have the necessary skills.

  13. Mark

    Good article. Many of our “weak points” are self impose limitations formed on very limited information, often because of what a authority figure said when we were young and how we mentally reinforced it over the years.

  14. Chris - Post author

    Hi Davina — that’s a great observation — I’ve been discovering more and more that I can always find people with the talents to help me if I want something badly enough, even if my natural aptitude in what I’m trying to do happens to be zero.

  15. Chris - Post author

    Hi Mark — I like that way of putting it — it’s incredible how just hearing something about ourselves once when we’re just learning about the world can shape the rest of our lives.

  16. Jannie Funster

    Hey, Chris! Did you check the news today to see if the houses are still standing? :)

    What an amazing gift to yourself to realize how the feelings attached to your past “failures” carried over, that you were able to free yourself.

    This probably applies to me too with volleyball and softball.


  17. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jannie — heh, yes, I can relate to cringing a little inside when I think about playing baseball when I was a kid and how bad I perceived myself to be at it. But the houses from the Google satellite view look a-okay.

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