All too easily, if given a clipboard and pen, we would be able to effortlessly label our strengths and weaknesses in appreciable detail – We believe they are two distinct categories with minimal overlap.
Schools and workplaces alike, through a great deal of leadership camps and corporate training, emphasise strengths as desirable and weaknesses as compulsory areas of change – strengths are good, weaknesses not so much.
It’s a common refrain that is too easy to mistake as everyday truth. Instead, our strengths have parallel weaknesses, and in different situations, they can cut deeply both ways, so it’s important we learn to recognise the weaknesses of our strengths.
Consider Richard Fyneman, a brilliant American theoretical physicist, often admired for his immense dedication and unbridled zest for self-discovery. Yet his same virtues were also grounds for divorce with his second wife, Mary Louise Bell, who stated that:
“He begins working calculus problems in his head as soon as he awakens. He did calculus while driving in his car, while sitting in the living room, and while lying in bed at night.”
What was initially perceived as advantageous to have in a spouse, quickly became a difficult to overlook flaw that bordered on self-obsession – our towering strengths conceal long, dark shadows of weaknesses.
The converse is also true. Someone’s bossy and pushy nature is easy to dismiss as a character flaw, but in a different person’s presence, it may be suppressed or highly endearing.
It is impossible to have a strength without its corresponding weakness; Virtues are complemented by vices; perfection with flaw. Knowing this brings us a measure of calm: we will forever remain imperfect, vulnerable and incomplete.
Perhaps then, like a moth flitting towards a gentle flame, we will always be deeply drawn towards those whose strengths and weaknesses are so complementary as to make us an almost perfect whole. We become real then.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) the weaknesses of your strengths?