It’s a question as old as poultry origins: the chicken or the egg? Should we focus on developing strengths, ignoring or delegating our weaknesses, or should we try to strengthen our weaknesses?
This has been a particularly interesting question for me in the last few months, since I started seminary. I’m getting mentally stretched in directions I never expected—in the best possible way. What I’ve found is that the discipline and the stretch are producing some budding growth in new areas. It has not been time or money wasted, and I’m just inches off the starting line.
Have you ever wondered about an area of your life that you felt uncertain about? Maybe it’s something you just don’t feel very good at, or you feel embarrassingly ignorant. Maybe it’s time to have another look at it. You may have potential there that you haven’t yet identified because it’s so hidden or because you have seen past failures. Don’t give up on it just yet.
Even the experts at Harvard now say that simply focusing on your strengths is dangerous, despite what we’ve been told for years by leadership gurus: Strengths-based Coaching Can Actually Weaken You. I think too many of us simply accept ourselves as is, and miss out on developing some of the latent gifts inside because we have written them off as weaknesses.
The Apostle Paul talked about the right attitude to have toward weakness. He understood that when we humbly recognize and don’t try to hide our own weaknesses, we get access to Christ’s powerful help. Facing our weakness builds character.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 9-10, NIV)
If we will ask the Holy Spirit to help us with our weakness, he will.
So how do you know what weaknesses could be turned around? I have many things I’m not good at, so I need a way to narrow the field a bit. Here are a couple of thoughts that may help you identify potentially undeveloped strengths currently masked as weaknesses:
- Don’t write off something as a weakness that could be corrected with more education or knowledge.
This one hits home for me in this season for obvious reasons. This requires being brutally honest with ourselves and facing down what intimidates us about education, whether it be lack of confidence, lack of time, lack of discipline, or whatever.
- Don’t write off something that could be strengthened with discipline and practice.
We tend to write stuff off that just seems too hard, but if you chip away at a skill just a little at a time, it will slowly get better. You might need a spouse or an appointment in your calendar to remind you to get in there and work on it regularly.
- Don’t write something off if no one in your world can do it for you.
No one can develop character for me. I can’t delegate prayer, Bible reading, worship, or loving people. I can’t delegate marriage, parenting, friendship, or managing my money. None of these things can go in the category of, “I’m just not good at that.” These are things the Holy Spirit works in us as we submit our lives to his leadership.
- Don’t write something off if a leader in your life or your spouse believes that you can, or is asking you to grow in that area.
The best leaders see things in us before we see them in ourselves. They don’t settle for the skills they know we already have—they coax us forward into the fullness of God’s plan for our lives.
- Don’t try to develop something that you hate to do.
I’m never going to be an accountant. I would become a deeply depressed person! Trying to get better at running accounting software would be a waste of everyone’s time. Unless it falls in the you-have-to-do-it category, then don’t worry about everything here.
- Ask yourself if the cost of getting strong will be bigger than the potential reward.
So for me, learning quantum physics or brain surgery falls into this category. This would cost too many years for too little benefit to me or the rest of the world. On the other hand, getting stronger at the gym or going to seminary does not fall into this category. The cost to reward ratio balances out nicely.
- Ask yourself if this the right season or if the other things you are working on are more important right now.
If you are a mom with tiny kids, then most the other things you are called to do are on a part-time hold. It’s not forever, but they might have to wait until your kids go to school. Timing.
I think that the moment to take a hard look at developing weaknesses is when you feel like you keep hitting a lid. This might be a promotion that you have been consistently overlooked for, or an opportunity that excites you but you feel like is out of reach. Maybe God has been putting a dream or a vision in your heart for a project that you aren’t qualified to do yet.
At what point in life are you hardened concrete or reached your full capacity? We lose our capacity for growth when we feel like we know everything that we need to know already, or we have accepted our weaknesses into our identity. As long as we are humble enough to look for mentors and teachers and have a desire to grow, then it doesn’t matter how old we are. God will continue to shape us and use us.
What could you be great at if you learned more?
What could you be great at if you practiced more?
What could you be great at if you dared to believe you could?