The Best Strategy for Getting the Best out of Yourself in life and sport
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
Half-way through life I’ve learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. I used to dwell on my weaknesses, wring my hands, squint my eyes, and worry about them. I have the wrinkles to prove it now. Late at night, I’d come up with plans to fix myself, only to be frustrated again the following day.
I’m not great when it comes to academic mathematics in all it’s forms; the only class I ever failed in my life was Geometry. And I made a D in my first crack at Algebra. I’m not great at math.
I’m not great at working with my hands on projects around the house. I can do simple things, but when it comes to real work requiring real skill I’m not gifted in that. Part of this weakness is that I’m not patient. That’s another weakness.
At work, I prefer to look at things from a high level – to stir up activity and ideas – get things moving forward, but I’m not great at staying focused on the details of those plans once they’re in motion. I prefer to move on and stir up more activity while someone who likes details focuses on them.
So, I didn’t get an accounting or math focused degree in college (in fact, I took the fewest possible math classes and ended up with an English degree). I’d rather pay someone, or ask a favor of someone, who’s good at fixing things around our house to help (that’s often your papaw, your grandfather, and sometimes even mommy). I didn’t become a CPA in my professional life; too many details.
Too often people believe they have to fix their weaknesses. Our culture teaches us that you must fix broken things – I believe this is part of the reason there are now diagnoses for everything related to childhood. We’re trying to “fix” our kids when the reality is they are just kids.
I’ve heard numerous lectures and teaching on the subject of strength finding (strengths and weaknesses). The best was from a college professor at Belmont a few weeks ago. He asserted that the Good and Bad are not opposites. Rather, Good and “Not Good” and Bad and “Not Bad” are opposites. I pondered what he meant, but finally got it.
I learned about strengths and weaknesses from triathlon and used it as an illustration in my MBA class a few weeks ago:
When I started in the sport I was, by local triathlon standards, an excellent swimmer, a bad cyclist, and a good runner. This worked for me early on: I’d be near the front after the swim, drift to the middle of the pack on the bike, and run my way back towards to top 10% of every race.
Somewhere over the years, probably when I switched to long course racing, I started to wring my hands over my poor performances on the bike. I believed the bike was costing me better finishes. So I needed to “fix” that problem. I invested more time and way more energy into my cycling – logging more hours and often more intensity on the bike. And I got faster. A lot faster. But not fast enough.
As with everything in life , there is a trade off. More time on the bike meant less time and energy for my swimming and especially my running.
I went from being an excellent swimmer, bad cyclist, and good runner to becoming a good swimmer, not-bad cyclist, and a not-good runner. And my overall performance drifted farther back into the pack. Why? I’d worked so hard cycling (the longest portion of every race). It turns out cycling isn’t my strength and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever turn it into one. Imagine my frustration if I’d forced myself into a deep study of mathematics in order to become a math genius. Not going to happen. By paying so much attention to my cycling, I’d cost myself the energy to continue working to build upon my strengths (swimming and running). I’d buried myself on the bike in order to become “not bad”. Ultimately the strategy transformed me from a good triathlete to a “not good” triathlete. I used the wrong approach for self improvement. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work at all on my cycling (or math or home improvement skills) – you should work to improve your weaknesses to the extent they are no longer limiters. (Those things that hold you back). A better strategy for getting the absolute best out of yourself is continuing to build upon your strengths while you seek to overcome limiters.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to “fix” your weaknesses. There’s nothing “wrong” with who you are. For every perceived weakness in your life, work, and sport you also have a strength that sets you apart. Focus on limiting your limiters – and turning your strengths into difference makers.
I love you
Sunday: Ran 18 miles
Tues: Ran 5 miles (tempo)
Wed: Swam 1000 yards
Thurs: Ran 4 miles (intervals)
ps. here’s a couple of cute pics of you two little ones on ScareCrow and 50’d Days at school this past week: