What’s your hidden strength?

What would come to mind if I asked you about your weaknesses?

The stuff you struggle with and stumble at. The things you think you ought to be better at, or resigned yourself to being rubbish at. 

The words you’d choose to complete the sentence “I’m too _____” or “I’m not very _____”.

Now I want to ask you, what’s the hidden strength in that weakness?

You see, every weakness hides a strength.  

My friend Marianne once said “Our weaknesses are just our strengths in the wrong environment.”

It’s where something we’re really good at gets misused, overused, or simply used in a place where it isn’t appreciated.

Like Marianne’s own love for change and seeking new solutions. It got her into trouble in her old job where she was being paid to follow the status quo, ask no questions and just get the job done, but now her fresh insights and incisive questions are exactly what her Free Range Humans love and value about her and pay her for.

As Einstein said,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I was bowled over recently by my 9 year old’s teacher at parents evening. There are really only three things I want to know as a parent at parents evening: How’s my child doing? Is he in an environment where he can thrive? What can I do to help?

The teacher could have said: “Yes he’s doing fine, well above what’s expected. The only thing he needs to work on is his pace, as he can be a bit slow. This is what you can practice with him at home…”

But instead, he described our son as a thoughtful boy who cares about getting things right, a methodical learner who is hungry to learn and does best when he takes it step by step, a deep thinker you won’t hear from for a while but when he does contribute to a group discussion he’s worth listening to, and a powerful writer whose words are something his teacher looks forward to reading.

Now that’s a teacher who knows my boy. And because of that, his classroom is an environment I know he’ll thrive in. If he had only focused on the weakness, we would have known one tiny little fact about who he’s not, and missed everything about who he is.

When we focus on our weakness, all we notice is who we are not.

Where can we really go from there?

Our weaknesses stem from our strengths. They are our strengths overused: when drive becomes stubbornness, when directness becomes rude, when compassion becomes people pleasing, when an ability to make stuff happen becomes control freakery, when attention to detail becomes perfectionism, when thoughtful becomes slow, when fast becomes impatience, when improvisation becomes unreliability, when imagination becomes easily distracted, when possibility becomes indecisiveness…

Our gut instinct is to suppress those weaknesses by changing who we are.

But when we focus on our strengths – especially the strength that lies at the heart of that weakness, we can start to channel our strength in the direction where it will grow healthily instead of spiral out of control. We can harness it in an environment where it will thrive and be valued. We can refine it into something that is brilliant and beautiful rather than destructive.

More than that, our strengths are who we are. When we ignore our strengths, we hide who we really are. We see only a glimpse of who we could be, just a shadow of our strengths, overused or misdirected.

When we nurture our strengths, we honour who we are, we learn how to handle ourselves, we grow to become the best of who we can be and we thrive. Boy do we thrive.

So here’s my challenge to you this week. Redefine your weakness. Find the strength that’s hidden within. Speak it out and declare it as a good thing.

For example, instead of “I’m easily distracted by shiny new ideas” I’m going to start telling myself “I have my best ideas at the most unexpected times, so I will make sure I’m always ready to capture them.”

Once you know your strengths you can start to ask yourself:

  • Where are my strengths most appreciated?
  • What environment do I thrive best in? (and what life-support do I need to put in place when I’m not in that environment?)
  • What can I do today to start nurturing my strengths?

I’ll leave you with this – a lovely poem I discovered on Hands Free Mama, which I think captures the value of our strengths rather beautifully.

Don’t Change, Extraordinary One

They say he’s too quiet.
They say she’s too inquisitive.
They say he’s too energetic.
They say she’s too sensitive.
They say he’s too absent-minded.

They say these things thinking it will help,
But it doesn’t really.
It only causes worry and the pressure to conform.
The truth is, changing would be a tragedy.

Because when they say “too quiet,”
I see introspection.
Don’t change, thoughtful one.
You’re gonna bring quiet wisdom to the chaos.

Because when they say ”too inquisitive,”
I see problem solving.
Don’t change, little thinker.
You’re gonna bring answers to the toughest questions.

Because when they say “too energetic,”
I see vitality.
Don’t change, lively one.
You’re gonna bring love and laughter to desperate times.

Because when they say “too sensitive,”
I see heart.
Don’t change, deep feeler.
You’re gonna bring compassion to hurting souls.

Because when they say “too absent-minded,”
I see creativity.
Don’t change, artistic dreamer.
You’re gonna bring color to lifeless spaces.

They might say change is needed.
But I ask that they look a little deeper and observe a little longer.
From where I stand, these individuals are just as they should be …
On their path to bring the world exactly what it needs to thrive.

Don’t change, extraordinary one.
You’re gonna light this place up.

© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and what it inspires you to do. Do feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment below. 

  • Catherine Poole

    A great post as always, Grace, and really got me thinking! Isn’t it so easy always to see the negative rather than focusing on the positive?

    • Right and recognising that they are not two opposing things, but the same thing channelled in different ways makes it so much easier. It’s not a case of “I hate being like this” or “I have to stop being like this” but “This is who I am – I can use it to wind myself up, or I can use it to live brilliantly.”

  • Glyn

    Wow Grace, I think this might be your best post yet. Thank you for your perspective on what we might call the human condition and how we see things atop our on little hilltop.
    It made me think of my characteristics. I am a very sensitive person and who somehow is often ignored, pushed to the background, or talked over when I try to speak. It amazes me that the other side I have is one where I am the only person to challenge things properly and to ask the types of searching investigative questions that others prefer to shy away from.
    I find it strange that I have these two conflicting sides to my personality. One being to think deeply and to be too sensitive and the other whereby I eventually feel moved to get to the nub of the matter. One person who met me told me they had never come across anyone who was so analytical in the way in which I thought about things. Maybe that is because I come from a science and technology background and one where I value thinking about challenges and striving towards precision. I am maybe not a people person – at least in the first instance of maybe interacting with others.
    In the verses of the poem I could pick out the two aspects of my character.
    Thanks again for an excellent thought provoking post.
    Glyn

    • Thanks so much for sharing your perspective Glyn. I think there is something incredibly powerful about embracing who you are rather than focusing on who you’re not. Being inquisitive and intuitive can mean that sometimes you pick up on stuff that doesn’t belong to you (other people’s issues or emotions in the room for example) but you can direct your inquisitive nature – away from their stuff towards what really matters to you. Equally, your sensitive side can also guide you on when probing is likely to be more useful than others. I love unusual combinations – they are less chartered territories yes, but far more fun to discover. Have fun playing with being you 🙂

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