I have studied the martial arts for more than 21 years. I have two black belts: one in tae kwon do and the other in Goju-Ryu karate. Each style has its focus. For example, tae kwon do focuses on advanced kicking strategies and dynamic movements to allow for quick strikes that whittle away at an opponent. Goju-Ryu, on the other hand, focuses on creating a solid base, or stance, from which you can execute any number of techniques with explosive power. Both systems have their strengths but also their limitations.
The goal of the martial arts, or at least in the schools in which I have trained, was to highlight the weaknesses of my opponents. If I sparred with a fellow who seemed to be unstable with every kick that he threw, I would focus on his kicking weakness; he’ll make more mistakes that way. If I sparred against a tae kwon do opponent and saw that his hand techniques were lackluster, I would focus on techniques that would compel him to use his hands more; he’ll make more mistakes that way. My goal was to win, in some cases at all costs. And the best way to do so in the martial-arts arena was by focusing on my opponent’s weaknesses.
So why am I sharing with you my strategies for winning martial-arts matches? I am sharing this information to highlight that what you do in the ring is exactly what you don’t do outside the ring. In other words, if you want win matches in life, it is imperative that you focus on highlighting and building the strengths of others, not tearing them down by highlighting every weakness. However, putting this mindset into action proves to be more difficult than you think, especially for me.
Weaknesses and Us
I grew up in a family and environment that sincerely believed that to have weaknesses was to be roadkill. Even the slightest indication that I couldn’t do everything perfectly was problematic. So I set out on a path to fix those weaknesses. It just wasn’t acceptable that they were there. And if they continued to be there, there was surely something wrong with me and resulted in various forms of punishment.
I am convinced that a lot of people grow up in similar environments and with this same mentality. They’re not supposed to be weak in anything. They can’t even show weakness, for fear that the next person will take advantage of them. (In some cases, that will happen.) America’s built on this type of thinking: the eradication of any notion of weakness. Just take a look at our venerable heroes:
Superman–perfection in strength and morality
The Six Million Dollar Man–perfection in body and function
MacGuyver–perfection in figuring his way out of any situation
The Lone Ranger–perfection in rescuing anyone within one hour
Or look at the seemingly perfect stars we hold in high esteem:
Mariah Carey–vocal perfection at all octaves
Angelina Jolie–perfection in appearance and looks
Bill Gates–perfection in information-technology genius
But there is a fallacy in holding these people up as the pinnacle of human achievement. While each person listed has made indelible impressions in the lives of people around the world, these impressions have come despite the weaknesses that each of them has. And they all have weaknesses.
Focusing on Strengths
I would argue that the above people–and anyone, for that matter–is successful because they focused on their strengths and didn’t spend an obsessive amount of time trying to eradicate every self- or outwardly perceived weakness. Let’s take a look at Superman. Of course, he’s a comic-book figure, but let’s look beyond that. He’s got some impressive abilities: flight, super strength, and X-ray vision, to name a few. But there are abilities that other heroes have that he doesn’t. For example, the Flash can run beyond the speed of light. Or Storm of the X-men can control the weather with a blink of the eye. Whether in the movies (if you watch them) or the comics (if you read them), you do not note Superman’s attempt to call down a bolt of lightning the way Storm effortlessly can. Or you don’t note how he tries run faster than Flash. Those are not Superman’s abilities, and it’s safe to assume that he’s okay with that.
It’s taken me years to learn and appreciate this reality. For more than two decades, I had been incredibly harsh on myself because I had so many self-perceived weaknesses. I was weak in designing just about anything, so I read dozens of books to improve that aspect of my life. I was very weak in understanding advanced math concepts, so I worked with every math guru I could fine just to get better. I wasn’t as disciplined in saving money as a family member of mine, so I worked with her to learn to save at embarrassing levels.
Conceptually, there is nothing wrong with these attempts. The reality, however, is that I didn’t enjoy trying to improve any of them. The lack of enjoyment wasn’t engendered by the fact that I experienced pain in trying to improve. The reality is that I simply didn’t care about being better in any of them, not considering that my skills in them at the time were sufficient for me to still have been successful in my life. Did I really have to understand imaginary numbers to continue being an effective writer? Did I have to have a mastery of Web-design concepts in order to work with Web technology? None of these so-called weak areas has a negative impact on my life, and I don’t expect them to at any point in the future.
I wasted many years of my focusing on areas that were weaknesses for a reason. In the freelance world, we can outsource nearly any aspect of our business operation that is irritating or time consuming. We don’t have to do the marketing, accounting, customer relations, or computer repair. There are experts who work in those areas just fine. We need that.
In the corporate world, there are departments of organizations for a reason. People work in the human-resources department because they are good at hiring, firing, and supporting people. People work in the IT department because they are good at managing the technology infrastructure of the company. Although there are some people who can cross the divide, most are perfectly fine in the department in which they work. And that’s necessary for a company to function from an operation’s view. Departmental interdependence allows each section of company to focus on its strengths.
So why not apply the same thinking to our own lives? Do you really have to be the go-to expert for everything in life? Do you really have to be an A-plus person in every aspect of your life? Or could it possibly be acceptable to be adept at certain areas and lacking in others? I am arguing that this is perfectly acceptable.
Managers should especially take note of this reality. Authentic employee engagement cannot happen by spending an inordinate amount of time trying to weed out employee weaknesses. All these activities do is lead to employees who feel demoralized and who will not be promoters of the company’s brand or image. In fact, it may very well increase employee churn.
Still, we are responsible for recognizing our own strengths. Doing so now can prevent you from taking a job only because it pays 30 percent more than what you take. It can prevent you from borrowing double-digit amounts of money on a college degree that you only earn because your family expects it. Our life can be streamlined and devoid of unnecessary stress if we move in the strengths-focused direction.
I should openly note that focusing on strengths does not imply that we ignore our weaknesses. We have weaknesses; every one of us knows that much. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply working in delusion. The goal is to operate with homeostasis in mind. We’re looking to strike a healthy balance.
So do yourself a favor and move forward knowing that you’re good at certain areas for a reason. And be okay with that. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself.