I remember that I was asked this question for the first time in my life during a job interview, when I was 20 years old. Honestly, I had no idea what to reply – growing up in Eastern Europe, I was told and reminded countless times of what my weaknesses were, but strengths? Was it a demonstration of my strength that I did not think too highly of myself to actually think about my strengths?
After some time I got used to this question but didn’t really get comfortable answering it. I practiced preparing the right answer to manage the expectations of whoever was asking. Yes, I am a team player, but also thrive working independently! I’m very creative but also don’t mind soul-crushing, boring tasks, work just needs to get done! I’m such a dynamic and creative person and yet don’t mind at all sitting in the same office and filing spreadsheets for 10 hours a day!
This way, I thought that I discovered my biggest strength: overcoming my weaknesses. I became a chameleon that did not remember its original colors. And this chameleon became successfully invisible and safe in its comfort zone, safe from exposure and completely safe from making this world a colorful place. I was a terrarium chameleon eating food from a pet shop, limited in its choices and ability to connect with other animals, still, trying to not to roll its eyes too much.
And this is how many people function throughout their careers: putting most of their effort into trying to overcome their weaknesses and push their ability to perform the “desired” strengths at a sufficient level, like a fish trying to climb a tree or a unicorn trying to lay eggs. Some are successful in it, some others are less skilled in “faking it until they make it” and all of them are tired, without knowing where all their energy went.
Years have passed and now I’m the one asking my coaching clients about their strengths – and I’m often fascinated by the fact that many of them have no idea, even though they are what our society considers very successful. These people feel haunted by their imposter syndrome and hesitate to acknowledge their achievements. Their success somehow always seems to be a result of pure coincidence or lucky misunderstandings.
What do you think becomes possible for these people once they truly understand their strengths and embrace their achievements and impact?
I’m asking you: What if what you consider as your weaknesses are in reality your strengths? Are you “too slow”? Well, maybe you actually think before you speak and want to make sure that you contribute something valuable. What are the things others acknowledge you for – you know, the things that make you think Yeah, everyone can do that! – ? Maybe not everyone can do that the way you do it. Not everyone has the courage to even try. Acknowledgements are gifts and they are given to you for a reason. Unpack them and take a look. Enjoy it.
I heard a variation of this statement many times: I never worked in a team so I’m probably not a good team player. What makes us differentiate our “work” qualities from the “others”? We are still the same person! What about your private life? How do you function with your family, or your friends? Whatever your qualities are, take a closer look at them – what would change if you fully embraced them?
Take a look at the place where you think you are “lacking” something. What is the quality you have abundance of instead? Are there things you would like to try but you feel unsure if you can do them because you never tried? What would you do if you believed you could?
There is nothing wrong with making the effort to work on some of our development areas. But it is important to choose which of these areas are worth our attention and knowing why.
Each of us is different and our unique strengths and qualities are integrated within us. In fact, these things are less exchangeable than the jobs we choose. We don’t have to become a different person entering the office. We can be ourselves and find our unique role in the ecosystem.
So the most important question is: What animal are you?
This article was originally posted on The Big C.