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When are your weaknesses really strengths?




At school, the goal was to be pretty good at everything. If you weren’t doing so well in, say, maths, you might have extra tutoring to improve your grades. But that’s not how the real world works, says Marianne Cantwell in Be a Free Range Human.


“Average is not an option"

Instead, the only way to be successful is to do what comes naturally to you. And the things that come naturally to you are usually the things that you find fun and enjoyable – your strengths, in other words. Squashing down your strengths and trying to be someone that you’re not just leads to mediocracy, says Marianne.


“But I already know my strengths and I don’t enjoy using them anymore”

Marianne makes an important distinction between strengths and skills. Basically, if you don’t like using them, they are not strengths: they are skills:

  • Strengths: things that you do well and are innately good at. They feel easy to do, and you’ve probably always done them in some shape or form

  • Skills on the other hand are things that you’re good at, but you’ve had to put in a lot of time and effort to get to this point. Even if you can do them well, they will always feel like a bit of a struggle.

Because our strengths are things that we find really easy, we can often overlook them. Which is why Marianne suggests that looking instead for our weaknesses can help us to spot our hidden strengths. Think of your current job, or a previous job which was a bad fit. What things did you or others perceive as weaknesses? Make a list, and for each one, see if you can come up with the underlying personality trait, situations where this could be an advantage, and what the hidden strengths underlying this might be.


For example, a weakness could be not being good at detail. The underlying trait could be – “I’m better at thinking about a project as a whole”. This would be an advantage if you’re thinking about strategy work, and the underlying personality trait might be “big picture thinker”


Identifying your strengths is a useful exercise, because you can then use them to really play to your advantage. Firstly – by making whatever business you create or career you begin really yours. For example, if five different people created a tutoring business, they could do it five different ways. One person might offer one to one and group classes. Another might create inspiring YouTube videos. Another might work to create high-quality banks of questions accessed via an online platform. And so on. Secondly – you’re always going to do better by being yourself. Capitalising on your strengths means that you’ll find things easy and fun that other people find a chore. And as a result, you’ll excel by specialising on them. The flipside is, of course, that because you find them easy and fun, and they come so naturally, you are more likely to overlook them. So, have a go at the exercises: what are your hidden strengths?

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