If you’re not good at something, is it a weakness?
If you’re good at something, is it a strength?
No, it’s not that simple.
There’s a difference between natural talents or strengths, and things that you learn over time by building skills and knowledge.
There are many things that when you start out, you will be unskilled. That’s not a weakness.
I’ll pause right there, to let that sink in.
Own Finding Your Strengths
It’s a key concept when you’re trying to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.
While I wish there was one simple way for you to just figure out your strengths, in my experience it’s not that simple.
There are many great lenses, but at the end of the day, you really own figuring out what your strengths are.
Tests, lenses and feedback provide the clues, but you have to test what works for you.
You spend time with yourself 24×7, so the least you can do is figure yourself out, if you haven’t already 🙂
Here are some key points that can help you identify strengths and weaknesses vs. skills:
- Start with some simple self-awareness. Some tools such as the Myer’s-Briggs Type Indicator or NLP Meta-programs can help you find your core preferences and patterns for thinking, feeling, and doing. They’re just lenses, but they can help you see your durable and pervasive strengths. For example, do you recharge by spending time alone or with others? If you recharge by spending time alone, you might be an introvert. Just knowing that can help you tease out some strengths vs. weaknesses vs. skills.
- Distinguish between strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are your dominant thinking, feeling, and doing patterns that come naturally for you. You grow stronger when you spend time in your strengths. A weakness drains you and you no matter how much you work at it, you don’t really improve. It’s like going against the grain. Another way to think of this is, know what kind of bike you’ve got. If you take your street-bike off-road, you can make it work, but you’re not making the most of it. Keep in mind that one person’s strength is another’s weakness. For example, I know some people that can do, but can’t teach, and others that can teach, but can’t do.
- Distinguish between weaknesses and skills. Some things require skill, knowledge, and experience. Don’t write things off as a weakness, just because you aren’t good right now. Consider whether you’ve had the right training, put in enough right time, or have the right coach.
- Distinguish between strengths and skills. Skills are a learned ability to do something with competence. For example, I’m good at drilling into details in a spreadsheet. It’s not a strength, it’s a skill. It makes me weak and I don’t enjoy it. On the other hand, I can whiteboard all day. It’s a strength and I leverage my ability to share information visually.
- Distinguish between information, knowledge, and experience. Information is just raw facts, figures, and data for a given situation. Knowledge is putting that information to use. Experience is you’ve been there and done that. Information transfer is easy. Knowledge transfer is tough. I’m a fan of mentoring, apprenticeships and first-hand experience for that.
- Distinguish between intellectual, emotional, and physical stages. You can read about a diet and regurgitate the information. That’s at the intellectual level. You can experience it first hand, and have an emotional reaction to the information. If you adopt new habits, eventually it’s burned in physically (your basal ganglia and muscle memory.) Think about this when you first learn something new. You have stages to go through before you’ve burned it in intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
- Know the continuum from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you have unconscious incompetence. When you know what you don’t know, you have conscious incompetence. When you can think your way through it, you have conscious competence. When you can do it without thinking, you have unconscious competence. For example, you can probably drive your car or ride your bike without thinking, but it didn’t start off that way. This is similar to going through the intellectual, emotional, and physical stages of learning.
- Distinguish between motivation, skills and feedback. There’s a difference between wanting to do something and having the right technique. If you need to find your motivation, change the why or change the how, and that just might lead to your next break through. If the problem is your technique, find a mentor that helps you find the right technique for you. For example, everybody can take martial arts and learn how to punch and kick, but a great instructor can help you find and perfect the technique that works for you.
Here are a couple of examples that might make this real for you:
- Learning an instrument. When I was younger, I took saxophone lessons. I didn’t have the passion at the time. I also had no idea how to practice right. If I hit a note, I figured I was done. Why practice if I already proved I could hit the note? Well, it’s one thing to hit a note while concentrating, it’s another to hit it without thinking. I never practiced enough to reach a flow state. I assumed I had no talent, when really I never even gave myself a chance.
- Learning martial arts. When I was younger, my Dad introduced me to a lot of martial arts and I picked up some heroes to model from. One of them was Bill “Super foot” Wallace. He’s kicking speed was clocked at more than 60 MPH, give or take. I decided I would kick like him. Long story short, after a lot of wicked stretching and leg training, I could kick my foot above my head and snap my leg against my upper chest in the fraction of a second. It was as if I could make my legs do whatever I wanted. I remember one incident really surprised me. I was walking through a parking lot with friends. I picked up a soda can, threw it up in the air, and with perfect timing, jumped in the air, spun around and sent the can flying. I had unconscious competence and could just do it.
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Photo by Jordan Cole.