“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Something that has always intimidated me from starting something new has always been a deep worry about my shortcomings. I know that I have weaknesses, and I’m afraid they’ll lead to my failure.
I’ve learned in recent years, however, that those weaknesses can be turned into strengths with a very simple tool: the right mindset.
I’m not talking just about the power of positive thinking (which I think is a great tool for anything) but about figuring out ways in which weaknesses can actually be strengths. If you develop the mindset that weaknesses aren’t really weaknesses, you’ve just broken through your limitations and fears.
For example, for the longest time I was no good at sustaining something for very long, at achieving any kind of long-term success. I was good at short-term projects, but I couldn’t keep anything going for long. So I found two ways to make this work in my favor:
- I became the master of the quick turnaround. Someone needs a job done? I’ll do it in a day or two. Any job that takes longer than that is broken down into smaller jobs — and I take them on one at a time, rather than as a group of intimidating and overwhelming projects. I can do amazing work in short bursts — and that’s an awesome strength.
- I learned to focus on baby steps. For some goals, you need to sustain something for a long time — running a marathon is a good example. But if I focused on one step at a time, and made each step a major success, I could achieve a lot over time with little baby steps. Instead of worrying about an entire marathon training program (usually takes 3-4 months), I focus on one day at a time, or one week at the most. And I celebrate my successes as though I completed the entire program.
Weaknesses as a Writer
A fear of not having mastered the novel form of writing also stopped me from trying to make it as a writer with a larger audience. I didn’t have experience in the larger world of journalism either (I’ve only written for small newspapers and magazines), so I never tried to make it with larger publications. For the longest time, these weaknesses held me back as a writer — I didn’t know how to write a novel and I don’t have a lot of big-time experience.
But then I discovered blogging, and suddenly my weaknesses were strengths: I could write blog posts about topics I knew about, in an honest way, rather than taking on the novel (which I will master someday). And my lack of experience actually helps — I’m just a regular guy going through things like everyone else, learning as I go — and my experiences as a learner help others learn as well. My weaknesses are strengths.
Weaknesses as a Blogger
While blogging was a good way to work on my strengths, there was also the weakness that I didn’t have a recognized name (when I started out), I had no readers (as compared to established blogs with big audiences), and no resources.
Those weaknesses were actually strengths, I realized.
Not having a recognized name meant I could re-invent myself into whatever I wanted. No one knew me as a small-town writer with no experience in productivity, organization, health, fitness, or other fields. I became Leo Babauta, a blogger on these topics (and some I knew a lot about — parenting and simplicity, for example) with a brand name I made up — Zen Habits. It worked, because the more I got my name out there, the more people associated me with this re-invented self. And it wasn’t a false self — it was something I became, based on my true self.
Not having an audience was also liberating — bloggers with audiences have expectations to meet. I could do anything I wanted. I could experiment with new styles, write heartfelt posts, write as frequently or as little as I wanted, become a copycat and imitate better bloggers, write controversial stuff, anything. I figured out what worked for me, what I liked writing, what other people liked.
Not having resources also became a strength: I would have to be creative. And creativity is a beautiful thing — much better than having a lot of money and staff. I was more personal than blogs in major networks or corporate blogs. I developed friendships with other bloggers. I wrote my butt off to do guest posts and freelancing for other blogs to get myself out there. I was lean and mean and having a lot of fun.
What Weaknesses Are Holding You Back?
What do you think your weaknesses are? Are they keeping you from starting something new, from pursuing a dream?
Sometimes we have fears about our weaknesses without realizing it. Take a minute to think about what you’ve always wanted to do, or what you’re doing now. What are your fears? What do you perceive to be your weaknesses? What are your limitations, and what’s holding you back?
Take assessment, and then read on to change your mindset about these weaknesses.
Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths
I won’t be able to do an exhaustive list of weaknesses, but the main thing to learn is to have the mindset where your weaknesses can ALL be turned into strengths. There might be exceptions, but I haven’t thought of one yet. Even if there are, it is extremely useful to always look at your weaknesses and see how you can use them to your advantage.
First step: examine your weaknesses.
Second step: figure out your strengths.
Third step: figure out how to move your weaknesses into the strengths column.
Here are just a few examples … again, I can’t list all of them and the main idea is to figure them out yourself. The more you practice this mindset, the better you’ll get at it.
- Not a good public speaker. Be an intimate communicator instead. If you aren’t good at talking to large crowds, talk to small groups or communicate one-on-one instead — and learn to be really good at that. Talk in ways that connect intimately with people, that draw them to you. Learn effective small-group communication and one-on-one skills.
- Not a good writer. Be a people person instead. If you can’t write a great proposal, make it in person. If you can’t write a great report, do a presentation. If you can’t write a great blog, do a video blog or podcast.
- Don’t have a lot of money to start a business. Be lean and creative instead. Small is actually an advantage in business. You can develop products without bureaucracy, witha quick turnaround, without too much planning or meetings. You can market using guerilla tactics. You are faster and more nimble than a larger competitor. You can adapt faster.
- You aren’t fast. So be deliberate. Be more thorough. Be more thoughtful. Work on important stuff instead of cranking out a lot of stuff.
- Don’t have large blog audience. So be more intimate and build stronger bonds with the small audience you have. Turn them into your biggest advocates, and really get to know every new reader. Have fun with your small audience in a way a bigger blogger can’t.
- Not a people person. So work on brilliant stuff alone. Find your niche and make amazing stuff with the talents you have. Find people who are people persons to promote your stuff for you.
- Not organized. Simplify things so you don’t need to organize (if you only have a few things, you don’t need to organize them). Be a creative genius instead of a diligent organized person.
- Not good with tech. Go low-tech. Work with paper or simple text files. This will allow you to concentrate more on your work rather than always being online, always trying out the latest tech stuff, always learning new coding methods or whatever. Let others figure out technology for you.
- Don’t have enough time. Great! So take what limited time you have and use it to maximal effect. Limitations are good — they force us to choose, and in doing so, they force us to choose what’s most essential. That increases our effectiveness. Choose only the task that will have the most impact.
You get the idea! Now get started on turning your weaknesses into strengths — start right now.
What are your weaknesses and how can they be turned into strengths? Share in the comments!