Amplify Strengths, Don't Band-Aid Weaknesses
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. At least that’s what they tell me. Typically, this is in reference to your officemates, or a circle of friends, but five minutes of scrolling through social media shows this pertains to your individual traits, too. A huge part of the narrative in the workplace - and in the media in general - is focused on ways in which you can pinpoint and address your shortcomings. Professional development sessions, self-help books, and influencer gurus preach ways to change your habits, your mindset, and sometimes even your personality to be a better version of yourself. What if this ultimately leads to our own unhappiness?
This particular approach to personal growth means you are constantly focused on your flaws. Somewhere, an introvert is gearing up for another torturous networking event because they feel as though they have to go to be successful. Across town, a dreamer is bogged down by a micromanaging boss who only focuses on bureaucratic details. In your neighborhood, an extrovert is miserable in their home office because they were lured by the hype surrounding remote work. Your friend’s “terrible boss” may have been pressured into a leadership position even though they were happy as an employee. You get the idea. By blindly following what so-called experts deem best for personal and professional success, you are inching away from self-awareness and closer to a life curated by someone else. This process ignores your strengths entirely. We’re all brimming with wonderfully unique gifts, but by ignoring those, and neglecting to nurture them, we’re forgetting about the best parts of ourselves. So it’s time to flip the script.
Instead of pouring time, sweat, and tears into trying to change who you are at your core, pool those resources and strengthen the traits that already make you confident, helpful, and happy. I was first introduced to this concept back in 2014 when my office had a CliftonStrengths seminar, in which we all took a test that uncovered our personal character strengths, then came together to discuss how those could be highlighted, utilized, and best placed in the office to really give everyone a chance to contribute their best self. Additionally, by comparing our strongest characteristics, we were also able to better understand each other; how we each fit into the larger framework of a successful team.
I went into that meeting acutely aware that I was terrible at small talk and mingling, probably asked too many questions, and had an issue with authority. I left understanding that I’m great at developing meaningful one-on-one relationships, that my analytical brain needs to see all sides of the story before accepting something, and that I care more about who someone is than what title is on their business card. I made peace with aspects of my personality that had seemed a hindrance, and figured out ways to lean into my assets. And because my coworkers were in the room, they were able to realize all of this about me as a colleague. We could all move forward knowing that my incessant questioning is not an effort to belittle their ideas, but to really grasp the goal of a project or change and figure out actionable ways to make it happen for everyone.
In offices where everyone has a similar title and a shared goal, it’s easy to expect the same work and effort from each person. The best managers will take a different approach, shifting and tweaking responsibilities to best fit the attributes of every individual on their team. I was given more responsibility on the operations and processing side of things, because I’m a problem solver and love looking for ways to make things work more efficiently. A colleague of mine joined a few committees across campus, because he’s great at cutting through hard topics and coming up with big picture ideas for change. Yet another coworker was assigned to attend all of our off-campus receptions, because he’s charismatic and has no problem striking up a brief conversation with a stranger. None of these efforts are better or more helpful than the other, and they all move us forward toward a common goal.
To be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with growing, learning, or trying new things. If you want to challenge yourself to work outside of your sweet spot, I applaud you. But if you feel worn down and ultimately less-than because you’re constantly focused on what you could do better, go easy on yourself and take a step back. Really evaluate your “why.” Are you forcing yourself to be someone you’re not to fit into a friend group, or to make your boss happy? Or are you genuinely interested in gentle, slow growth into new areas of your life?
If you truly want to try something new, the best advice is to remain open-minded, but be willing to pivot if you’re unfulfilled. Try that new shared workspace in town, give public speaking a shot, or finally start that beginner’s coding course you’ve heard so much about. If, after weeks or months of giving it your best effort, you’re not into it, gently accept that fact and move on. You are not flawed because you’re more productive in a quiet office, nor because you write better than you present to a crowd, nor because computer programming isn’t your strong suit. These are simply practices that do not fit into the larger picture of your life, and that’s okay.
My challenge to you is this: next time you take a personality assessment, resist the urge to scroll to the bottom of the results to see where you’re lacking. Focus on the top of the chart, and really think about the ways in which you can amplify those traits in your personal and professional life. Don’t be afraid to ask your boss for a little flexibility in how they expect your work to be done. For some, that means more autonomy, and for others, more structure or frequent feedback. Results are results, no matter what your path looks like to get there, and if we can all be happier on the way, why the hell not?
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine and runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her dog.