Let’s Stop Playing to Our Strengths
What the world needs right now is people who are willing to play to their weaknesses.
Ah, the dreaded job interview question about strengths and weaknesses. What are we good at, what do we suck at? Do they really expect an honest answer? My strengths play as weaknesses in the conventional work environment: working alone, listening rather than speaking, and staying out of shit (read: not a team player, won’t speak up in meetings, and conflict-avoidant). Since I work for myself, I thankfully never have to answer this question in real life, but it’s often on my mind as I feel my way through starting my own business. I know many of the traits that make me an undesirable candidate in the traditional working world will help me excel at self-employment. But I lack the traits we associate with successful entrepreneurship. I’m not assertive, a self-promoter, or a go-getter. I want to make meaningful connections with people, not make “buckets” of money, as a recent business coach promised to help me do. I did not hire him.
And now I’m working on starting a podcast (coming in January 2021). I couldn’t be less suited to podcasting. I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. Like many introverts, it takes me time to formulate thoughts into speech. Speaking easily exhausts me, and nothing turns me into a silent stone more than the feeling like I have to say something. When I do speak up, it’s usually measured and serious — not exactly a style that translates into engaging audio content. And not being a self-promoter certainly won’t help me get noticed in the glut of podcasts already out there. Really, anyone would tell me it’s not wise to start a podcast. A waste of energy and money at the very least, and probably destined to be an embarrassing failure.
Yet I’m doing it nonetheless. I want to reach people with content that resonates and makes them think. I have good ideas that I want to share. I’m drawn to podcasting even though it doesn’t seem that I’ll be particularly good at it. Because I don’t think that we are called to do the things we’re good at. I think we’re called to do the things we want to do. But I also think that many people decide they don’t want to do things they aren’t good at. Personal growth gurus all advise that us to play to our strengths.
I can’t imagine worse advice! Well, I can, because I have a very active imagination, but you get my point. We live in a culture that worships being exceptional. We rank, order, and judge. We do not respect failure and yet we love to watch people fail, which is the inevitable flip side of our hyper-competitive mentality. This is a harsh, stressful environment to exist in. It’s like one big reality tv show where we are constantly auditioning for the title of “worthy human being.” To decide to not participate in this, to do what we want to do simply because we want to, simply because we enjoy it or are excited about it, is a radical rebellion in a culture that is standing in the wings with its bucket of shit, ready to start flinging.
Here’s the irony: exceptionality is common. In these times, anyone with talent can reach a global audience. And there are a lot of people with incredible talent out there! We can admire talent, sure, but there’s always a new talent coming up to replace the old, which is soon forgotten. Being the best never lasts long in a society that glorifies aggressive leveling up.
This never-ending cycle is boring. What the world craves right now is people who show up as themselves, with their small gifts and awkward striving. People whose goal is to become more fully who they are, not to do more than/be better than. There’s a reason Brené Brown went viral with her vulnerability research. We need people who aren’t afraid of vulnerability, and who reject simplistic binary concepts such as strengths/weaknesses. We are experiencing a societal paradigm shift right now, and we all have an opportunity to step into the new era as our authentic selves and say, “This is what I have, this is what I am, and I can make a difference.” Will you join me?
Kendra Patterson is a writer and creativity coach based in north-central Florida. You can find her at www.kendrapatterson.com.