Human beings are very interesting creatures. We are all so vastly different and complex in our personalities, characteristics and mannerisms, yet also very similar in biological ways. It’s a bit scary how much DNA we have in common, although I’ve never met two people who are exactly the same. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What triggers one person emotionally can leave minimal or no impact on someone else. Some of us will exercise and eat right but still die relatively young, while others will have consistently bad habits and still live a long time. It can all be very mysterious.
We’ve all heard the nature versus nurture explanation. I’m not sure which side of this debate I fall on, but I think it is hard to deny how someone’s genetic make-up and or the environment aren’t both directly related to their quality of life. Of course, there are also probabilities associated with certain lifestyle behaviors that do have consequences. It is never wise to completely default to the hereditary position and tempt fate. However, I do think it’s important that we do some self exploration and get a true sense of who we are and why we do things. We can then get an understanding of the impact this is currently having and may have on us physically or emotionally in the future.
Every one of us is born with inherent strengths and positive personality characteristics. You can already see this in newborns and young children. My two kids couldn’t be more different. Each of them will default to these strengths on a regular basis and it is a big part of how they socialize and cope with things. More often than not, this is a good thing. It can also prove to be problematic if it goes too far because every strength does have a shadow. People can be “too much” of something. For example, you can be too empathetic and spend all your time worrying about others. You can be too verbal and not spend enough time listening – missing important bits of information. Being calm is good, but being too calm can get boring and limit your emotional connection with others. You can be too confident and come off as arrogant.
The flip side of our strengths is our weaknesses. Unfortunately just like our strengths they are somewhat hard wired. We all have obstacles to overcome about who we are, how we handle things and our view of the world. Over time we build up shields to protect us from these weaknesses. Shy people will regularly avoid being the center of attention (sometimes to their detriment). Individuals who struggle with details will try to avoid details altogether and make basic mistakes because they couldn’t be bothered or defer responsibility just to get it whatever it is, done. Type “A” people will push themselves too hard and are often on the verge of physical and emotional burnout if they are not careful. Moreover, they can be very difficult to spend time with as the initial excitement and energy wears thin.
Bottom line is that we all have assets and liabilities as individuals. There is a school of thought that given this we should focus just on what we are good at (leveraging the assets) and minimize everything else. I believe this mindset has the danger of being short-sighted and self-limiting. Too much of anything is never a good thing. The only way we evolve is through learning and experience. Personal growth happens with time as we stretch our perspectives and challenge individual conceits and preconceptions. If we narrowly focus our growth opportunities, we aren’t fully living. Weaknesses also exist and must be dealt with, not just circumvented or fortified with self protective behaviors. Adversity and challenge are a regular part of life and require some level of personal vulnerability if they are to be successfully navigated.
I encourage you to make an exhaustive list of both your strengths and weaknesses. The next step would be to rank order these items in terms of the top 5-7 in each category. I would then validate this list with the people closest to you. Once you have this list finalized, then ask yourself how too much of a given strength can or has caused some problems in your life if you’re not careful. Do your best to figure out how much is too much and where the shadow begins to loom. In terms of he weaknesses, ask yourself, what protective behaviors you have built up over time to deal with these issues. What impact have these shields had on the people closest to you? How have these barriers hindered your personal/professional growth and development? What would you like to change or manage better so that your liabilities diminish rather than just balance out against your assets?
The goal for any human being should be to maximize our individual value and contribution to our fellow human beings, especially to those closest to us. You are either adding or subtracting value on a daily basis. We commonly do this through leveraging our strengths and managing our weaknesses. We are all born with much in common, but also much that makes us different. To paraphrase Popeye, “we are what we are,” but the story doesn’t have to end that way. Real growth requires understanding that there are both shadows and shields to our behaviors and they should not should grow too big or become too strong respectively. As always, awareness is the first step in the journey…