I often feel a bit out of my element in social situations. Meeting new people and making friends doesn’t come easily to me. My inner critic is quick to point out all the ways I need to be better. I need to be more bold and outgoing. I need to be funny. I need to be confident and make fascinating small talk.
These criticisms are painful to hear, especially since there’s a grain of truth in them. Yes, there’s value in learning to introduce myself with a smile instead of hiding away certain no one wants to talk to me. Readying a few conversation topics and questions can help both me and the person I’m talking to feel more at ease.
But overall, is focusing on all these perceived weaknesses really the best way to be a friend? What about the areas of friendship where I am strong? Listening without judgment, empathizing with another’s perspective, showing up to help when I’m needed. I certainly don’t do these things perfectly, but they’re some of the best parts of myself I bring to relationships.
When I focus on where I believe I’m lacking, I don’t show up as authentically. When I try to be bold and gregarious, I get so focused on making myself talk I forget to listen. When I try to be funny, I lose sight of how the other person might be feeling. When I focus on all the ways I should be better, I forget the valuable strengths I have to offer.
We all have strengths. But I think many of us spend a lot more time focusing on our weaknesses. Why is that? For starters, we think if something comes easily to us it must come easily to everyone. We’re quick to dismiss our strengths as nothing special.
We see what someone else is good at and think their strengths are worth more than ours. Different strengths aren’t necessarily better or worse, instead they compliment each other and bring fullness to our shared humanity.
We also think we need to focus on improving our perceived weaknesses so they don’t hold us back. The problem is when we invest our energy in moving our weaknesses a little closer to our strengths, the strongest parts of us are no stronger than before. Besides, we feel discouraged because we’ve been dwelling on what we want to be different about ourselves instead of recognizing and appreciating the best parts of ourselves.
This doesn’t mean we ignore our weaknesses and let ourselves off the hook from ever trying to improve. But it’s important to know why you’re focusing your energy on a particular area of your life. Will it help you get where you want to go and be who you want to be? Will pushing yourself in this area help you become more authentically you…or are you trying to be someone you’re not?
What if, instead of trying to be strong in everything on your own, you joined with someone else whose strengths compliment yours? Alternatively, how can you lean into your strengths to propel you forward?
Really owning and celebrating our strengths can feel prideful, but there’s a big difference between bragging and offering the best you have to give. We all have both strengths and weaknesses. It’s part of being human. When we appreciate our strengths we can approach our weaknesses with more compassion, recognizing they don’t define us but are simply part of who we are.
Knowing your strengths can give you more insight into who you are and help you make decisions that are a good fit for you. When we don’t know what our strengths are we tend to focus on our weaknesses or get caught up in expectations about what we think our strengths are supposed to be.
So how do we do we identify our strengths? Try these exercises to help you uncover yours.
Take a strengths test like this free one from the VIA Institute on Character.
List compliments you’ve received from other people and things you know about yourself. Maybe it feels uncomfortable to go around telling people what you’re good at, but could you make a list for yourself of your best qualities and skills? It can be really helpful to keep a notebook or folder of these things to refer back to when you need some encouragement.
Ask at least 3 people what they think are your top strengths. Yes, this one can be super uncomfortable. My coach recently challenged me to do this. (and she wanted me to ask 5 people!) I spent a few days trying to find a loophole before finally just asking people. I’m glad I did. I received some beautiful responses. This exercise is a good reminder that we’re often our own worst critics and others see things in us we struggle to see in ourselves.
After you’ve identified some of your top strengths, look for ways you can bring more of them into your day-to-day. Can you use at least one of your strengths each day? You don’t even have to add to your to do list. Instead, look at what you’re already doing and think about how you can lean on your strengths.
I’d love to hear…what are your top strengths? How are you going to use those strengths in whatever you’re doing this week? How does it feel to accept the areas you feel weak and appreciate where you are strong?