I don’t know about you, but I was raised in a culture that taught me – from a young age – that my weaknesses needed to be “fixed”… my problems ought to be “cured”… and my deficits had to be neutralized.
And the message… that I wasn’t “enough” as I was – and that I needed to be fixed, was never stronger than when I was at school (and in particular, high school).
For example, I’ve never been good with numbers and maths. I don’t like numbers and maths. I don’t *get* numbers and maths. And I don’t want to work with numbers and maths… and I DEFINITELY don’t want a career that involves numbers and maths. Yet, in school, this was viewed as a weakness that needed to be fixed.
So – due to my low marks in maths, I:
- got into a lot of trouble with maths teachers
- was placed in the “Donkey Row” in maths class (the row of desks in front of the teacher’s desk – designated specifically for naughty kids and “dunces”)
- was scolded a lot for my low maths scores (on tests)
- was punished – regularly – for daydreaming in maths class, staring out the window (and desperately wishing to be anywhere else in the world – but there)
- was told that I ought to just concentrate… and focus… and “pull-up-my-socks”
- was repeatedly told that my low maths test scores would damage my future potential and that I would struggle to get a job (one teacher told me I’d end up sweeping streets… another told me that I’d end up selling-cheese-in-Checkers)
So… due to this perceived problem… this alleged deficit… this weakness-that-needed-fixing… a lot of time was spent (by me) and money spent (by my parents)… on *fixing*… this “weakness” (regular after-school maths lessons, extra maths homework, break-times spent doing extra sums, etc).
Of course (and I’m sure nobody is really surprised to hear this)… that when all that forced coersion ended… and the Master Maths lessons stopped… and school days were over… all of that supposedly “learned” material that was foisted upon me… magically vanished into thin air – and I never thought of trigonometry or calculus… ever again.
To this day… the only maths I do (or care to do)… is basic sums (like add a 20% tip onto the bill at a restaurant)… or a few simple baking conversions… or pricing on a new product. The rest – I leave up to the people in this world who are genuinely gifted at (and interested in) numbers. And yes – there are lots of people who love numbers.
I – however – am not one of them.
My point is this: I truly believe that the obsession with my weaknesses came at the expense of my gifts and natural talents.
There’s a great quote in the Strengths Finder book by Tom Rath:
“What’s even more disheartening is the way our fixation on deficits affects young people in the home and classroom. In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention. Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness”
Imagine if, instead of focusing on fixing my weaknesses (like maths) – that my parents and school teachers, instead, INVESTED into my natural strengths… my natural gifts… the areas where I had the most potential to thrive and shine. And what if all that time and money… had been spent on investing in growing my skills and understanding in the fields of art, design, music and literature (the stuff I genuinely loved).
And I think that many of us learned… way-way-back from our school days… that weakness equaled “failure”. And failure equaled shame. And shame equaled rejection and isolation (whether self-inflicted or otherwise). Because it was shameful to fail certain subjects… or just not be GOOD at certain things (like the kids who were always last in the running-races… or those who were always picked last for teams… or those who were placed in the Donkey Row in maths class…)
What if… it was just OKAY… to suck at something….?
What if – there was NO SHAME attached – in any way – to our weaknesses?
And when I say “weaknesses” – I refer to a plethora of areas where we’re just not strong…
Like… it’s okay to suffer from depression. It’s not a shameful condition. It doesn’t mean that you’re a self-centred, self-obsessed loser. It just means that, well, your brain works a bit differently to others… and you’ve probably already figured out that you need to find ways to manage that condition…
But it’s not a shameful thing.
And – it’s okay to be addicted to something (most of us are!)… whether it’s food, drink, prescription meds, gambling, shopping, soap-operas or gossip! (to mention just a very short list). It’s not a shameful condition. You are not an evil monster for struggling with addiction! You are not a ‘lesser’ human being! In fact, I think society does addicts an enormous disservice by shaming and isolating them. Why can’t we just be honest about our addictions (without fearing an avalanche of shame and ridicule from others)…. (?)
Because it’s OKAY to say: “Y,know what? I am really, really struggling with this thing. I can’t do it on my own. I need some help – can you help me?”
And it’s okay to GET help… and to discover ways to manage your addiction in a way that works best for you. And to be supported – instead of shamed.
And… it’s okay to say: “I can’t”
You’re not a loser or a weakling for saying: “I… just… can’t“.
You are not a failure for saying: “I am just NOT finding this possible!”… or a screw-up for saying: “Actually – I just don’t want to do this”.
It’s okay to ACCEPT and MAKE PEACE WITH your weakness (in fact – I’d go as far as to suggest… that it’s the only way to move forward)… (as I think anyone who has journeyed with AA would concur).
Quick example: I could either bully and shame myself… indefinitely… until the end of time… for being messy, disorganised and bad with numbers and money. I could berate myself, scold myself, tell-myself-to-muster-up-the-willpower to *fix* myself… (and then wallow in the mud-pit of self-hatred when all my Plans-to-Fix-Myself came to naught)… OR… I could make peace with my weaknesses in that department…. and compose a blog post – sharing my weakness with the world – and ask for help in the areas where I am just NOT naturally strong…. (I have found my “Andrew” – by the way!!)
This is what I want for you: I want you to make peace with yourself – exactly as you are, right now. We ALL have flaws. We ALL have weaknesses. We ALL have areas of our lives where we’re just not naturally… strong.
But… instead of spending your life… your time… your money… your energy… trying desperately to *fix* all the areas where you feel like you’re not measuring up – try investing in your strengths instead! Spend your time, money and energy doing the stuff you love… investing in your passions and what makes you come alive! Do the stuff you’re good at! And – encourage your kids to do the stuff they’re good at too!
I cannot emphasise enough – how that decision – to stop shaming myself, make peace with my weakness…. and focus, instead, on my strengths – has turned my life around.
I’m not ashamed that I struggle to keep things organised and neat. I’m not ashamed that I count on my fingers. I’m not ashamed of my body. I’m not ashamed of my limited cooking skills. I’m not ashamed that my brain sometimes doesn’t co-operate in the way I’d like it to. I’m not ashamed that I’m not sporty and can’t run fast. I’m not ashamed that I can’t hit a ball with a racquet. I’m not ashamed that I suck at acting. I’m not ashamed of my eating disorder. I’m not ashamed of my big bum… or my cellulite. I’m not ashamed of my quirks and oddities.
I have found ways to quietly manage (whilst not obsessing over) the areas where my weakness has the potential to negatively affect my life. But the vast majority of my time is now spent on investing in my strengths.
And it has changed… everything.
PS: As some of you have already surmised, I genuinely enjoy hearing other people’s stories! Any strengths or weaknesses that you’d like to share the the comments section? I’m listening…