Are You Blind To Your Own Strengths?

In my last post I wrote about our blindness to our faults, weaknesses, and bad habits and how others can see them with clarity.

Today I will write about how we can be blind to our own strengths and natural talents.

If we clearly saw our own strengths and desires books about finding purpose and meaning in life would disappear.

You can know what you want, but you can fail to use your strengths to create what you want, because you can’t see your strengths. Sometimes you deny your strengths because you are afraid. Other times what you think are strengths, aren’t strengths but weaknesses.

Do you know a person who is wasting tremendous talent? You can see it, but they can’t. Sometimes you can see talent in another person and when you mention it to them, they will deny they have talent or start making excuses for wasting it. You can see they aren’t happy and you know they will be happier if they follow their talents, but they don’t.

Is it possible that others see you the same way? Do people (other than your mother) ever tell you that you are great at X and ask why you spend all your time doing Y. If so… how do you respond? Do you search your heart and ask yourself… Are they right? Can they see the bright shining star that you really are? Or are they trying to shape you into their vision of you? Can you tell the difference?

Do you fear success? Do you fear failure? I ask these questions because, in the past, my fear has kept me from doing the things I love, things I love that are valuable to others.

Are you afraid of applying your greatest strengths?

A personal story

Just after I turned thirteen I wanted to be an athlete. I was motivated to become an athlete for two reasons – I wanted respect and girls. But it didn’t work, the problem was clear – I didn’t have any athletic talent and I didn’t like athletics. I desired the value people gave successful athletes but I was never mentally engaged in athletics. During football games I day dreamed. During practice, I didn’t study the plays, instead I watched the girls play tennis. I couldn’t pay attention to the coach or the game. They weren’t as interesting as the girls bouncing up and down in little white dresses.

My parents, friends, and siblings saw that I had little athletic talent. They could see that I wasn’t harnessing my natural talents and innate desires which would have provided far more value and produced satisfying results.

At that time, I loved Dungeons and Dragons, Heavy Metal, computers, video games, science fiction, movies, music, and reading. In other words, I loved girl repellent. After the pain of failing at athletics, my desire to gain respect and meet girls remained so strong I found a different path – I became a rebellious, burnout, musician, and the nemesis of a few suburban fathers in Bloomington Minnesota. This worked far better because it played to my strengths, but it didn’t make the adults happier.

Don’t misunderstand… I’m not saying you shouldn’t work your weaknesses… I’m saying that you may find far better results sharpening your natural desires and talents to a razor sharp edge instead of trying to be somebody you aren’t.

Another personal story

For most of my career I’ve experienced intense fear when asked to white board; a fear more intense than a normal fear of public speaking. I do it, but it is uncomfortable.

A talented software developer (who I worked with for years) asked me to white board a concept and I told him that I hated white boarding. He asked why and I said, “I suck at drawing.” He said he loved my whiteboard diagrams of abstract systems. He said it was a strength. I still think he was full of shit. But what if he wasn’t?

I thought about what he said… and while I still don’t see white boarding as a strength… I searched inside myself and discovered the root of my fear of white boarding. As a school boy I daydreamed and doodled while the teacher lectured. When she noticed my disinterest and inattention, she ordered me to the front of the classroom and told me to summarize her message on the blackboard. She attempted to publicly humiliate and shame me into paying attention to her lectures. It didn’t work. Her tactics built feelings of resentment and alienation, but today I re-live the feelings of shame and humiliation when asked use the board. My developer friend may be right, white boarding may be a strength, but it doesn’t feel like a strength.

Do you have strengths which do not feel like strengths? Does your emotional response blind you? Can your emotional programming be beat?

Can you see your strengths? Do you apply them? Sharpen them? Capitalize on them?

Subscribe here to follow our ongoing discussions…

19 thoughts on “Are You Blind To Your Own Strengths?”

  1. Wow… great post. Love the personal stories.

    A big problem is that people are not very honest with you sometimes. This more rare if they are talking about your strengths. Another issue is that many people tell people they are good just because the other person is better than them relatively.

    Anyway, I definitely agree with you that people tend to ignore other’s feedback. It is easy to be blinded if you have any sort of anxiety, fear, or negative emotion.

    In your last story, I’ve very impressed of the way you figured out that problem. That’s not an easy thing to do with most people. Most people would just kept on with their fake rationalization of their fear. It’s also amazing how so many things we are afraid of comes from a deep rooted experience or experiences.

    Thanks again for the post. I enjoyed it.

    Carl Zetterlund

  2. I can totally relate- to the D&D and other girl repellent activities, that turned around when I got into punk rock. 🙂

    Strangely enough, I don’t have quite as strong a reaction to my own drawing, but it’s not dissimilar. I thought you might like to check out Celeste’s site:

    She might help with that whiteboarding thing.

    Anyhoo, I just like the idea of focusing on the strengths- I’ve found that to be true for me. And then I can count on my mastermind group to call me out when it’s time to start dealing with any weaknesses/blind spots.

  3. @Carl – Thanks… glad you enjoyed the post. Negative emotion does blind us… I’m not sure it can be overcome, only understood and harnessed.

    @Mark – Thanks for Celeste’s site. I’ll have to check into it more. Can you do a post on your master mind group. I’ve always wanted to create one. But don’t know where to begin. I’ve read Mr. Hill’s explanation in Think and Grow Rich but haven’t been able to put the pieces together.

  4. “I loved girl repellent” – LMAO! Me too! Still do, actually… my wife still loves to talk about how I think I’m a Jedi. 🙂 And I never even tried the athletics – it was all marching band for me!

    Great post, Steve… And regarding your question to Mark, I’ve never really been able to put together the pieces on the Master Mind group myself, so I’d be interested in seeing a post on it as well.

  5. One problem with the teacher you mention is that she has misused an important aspect of teaching. It is a common and useful technique to notice students that aren’t involved in learning and try to find ways to get them into it.

    I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was trying to do that and not trying to embarrass you, except that with my own knowledge of public education it seems more likely that you’re right.

    Speaking as a teacher/instructor, it is sometimes very hard to find ways to get your students interested and involved–a difficulty made even more complex with large student to teacher ratios.

  6. Another great post, Steve! I particularly like your personal examples.

    I think this has been a major quest of mine. My mother decided that I was a child prodigy at writing; she encouraged me from the age of six to spend all day writing, hours and hours. By the time I was in high school I was a better writer than most of my peers, but not because of my inherent prodigy talents. By that time I had spent three times as much time writing and developing my skills than most other students, so of course I was a better writer.

    I am not untalented, but I don’t believe writing is my only or even best strength. I am a very talented artist and I love draw, but that skill is decades behind my writing abilities. I always knew I could draw and that I enjoy it, but it was something I pushed aside because of what someone else said my strength was something else. It took me a long, long time to break away from my mother’s definitions of my strengths. I’m going to school now for a fine art degree, and I’m producing good work (for a beginner) but it still is hard to think of it as a strength!

  7. Steve

    This is a great post. I think this particularly applies to children, as parents we can see strengths in our children when they cannot and should encourage them to see both their strengths and weaknesses and work on both. I have also seen parents push their kids so hard in a direction that the parent wanted to go in when they were young, it is sad to see.

    thanks again

  8. Great advice. This is a classic argument as well, whether it’s important to address weaknesses or to build up on strengths. Having no weakness is irrelevant if you don’t have any strengths to make you unique.

    This reminds me of the “Animal School” story that has the same point. Basically, different animals like ducks, zebras, bears, and fish were in the same school and had the same curriculum for running, flying, and swimming. You can guess how the story goes, but sometimes these simple stories are needed to make sense of the real world.

  9. This post made me laugh…girl repellent! Too cute. I am someone who should have a fear of white boarding, but since my drawing is sooo bad that it makes people laugh, I figure it’s ironically a bit of a strength. Funny timing on reading this post…I promised myself it was the last blog I’d read before doing the teacher strength assessment my principal assigned us this weekend.

    Just a thought, perhaps we sometimes have strengths that we don’t acknowledge as such because we don’t want to be bored or overly challenged. For example, I am great at writing grant proposals….yawn. Do I publicly acknowledge this strength? Nope…

  10. I can completely understand this, in some respects I think I probably have problems acknowledging my own strengths.

    Looking at it now, maybe deep down I do know my strengths as others say to me, but almost fear the prospect of failing at something that perhaps defines me as a person? – Who would I be if that happened?

    Maybe I’ve spent my time since leaving school doing the wrong things (especially in terms of jobs) because of this and been happy just to be in a comfort zone instead.

    Thanks very much for this post, it’s definitely given me food for thought.

  11. Hi Steve,

    I just came across your site today. This post really resonated with me. I recently had the opportunity to hear Marcus Buckingham speak. He has basically devoted his life to what he calls the “strengths revolution” – finding, using, and developing your strengths.

    Most people spend a lot of time trying to become medeocre at what they’re bad at when they could have a much bigger impact becoming great at what they’re already naturally good at.

    I look forward to reading more of you posts.

    – Paul

  12. I’m about the same age you were when you became a rebel, and who knows where I’d be if I didn’t adapt to my situation. No, I know where I’d be. I’d be sitting alone, being a robot. But anyway, I like the some things you did. The thing I did differently is that instead of sports, I got jokes. I also hid away all that geekyness. The reason I did this is because I wanted respect and girls and friends. I got sorta-respect(Is it respect if they don’t know part of you?). I got good friends. And thankfully, I found a girl that’s as geeky as me, but I’m still working on that department.

    I don’t know if this is related, but I also have an intense fear of being called-on. I fear this so much that even if I know the answer is right, I won’t raise my hand. It comes from my fear of public-speaking. When I have to do these speech-projects, I often rush them to the point of stuttering, which in turn gets me a bad grade. I don’t know why I, and pretty much everyone, has a problem with speaking in public. I think it’s because we don’t want to break the herd-mentality. That mentality that if we are different, that will make us a target. That’s why zebras stay together. If a lion saw a pure-white horse in a zebra herd, it would go after the horse. I think fear of public-speaking is some leftover-monkey-stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *