Most of us think that we can never have too much of a good thing. I’m talking about human qualities, not money or physical possessions. But if you examine your very best qualities you might also find that they have a flip side. Your strengths can actually be your weaknesses, too.
Take a person who is enormously outgoing, action oriented, and confident. He may dominate a conference and be a leader, but just might overlook some of the thoughtful ideas expressed by the quiet guy in the corner of the room who has a better answer than anyone else. By the same token, that introverted person who works well solving problems alone in his head is less successful in groups where the loud voices dominate. His quiet and contemplative excellence doesn’t transfer well to a team meeting and costs him the ability to make a strong impression that might be useful to him and his company.
In each of these cases, the strengths are double-edged: they cut both ways. The outgoing leader might be too quick to come to a decision that feels exactly right for him and of which he is sure, but wrong. Meanwhile, the quieter, more cerebral type can have difficulty getting his ideas to be heard.
Now think of politicians. They must be tough enough to withstand the enormous public exposure and criticism that comes their way. But that same ability to tune out opposition (a thick skin) can make them tone-deaf to some of the criticisms that they desperately need to hear in order to serve the public good.
What about qualities like beauty and celebrity? If you rely on your good looks to get ahead you may find that it too has a down side. Do people want to be near you or your handsome face and attractive body? Do you depend on those looks when there are other personal qualities and talents that might be important to develop rather than neglect? And then what happens when the gorgeous face fades with age?
As far as celebrity is concerned, the applause of a big audience everywhere you go must be a pretty heady experience. But the loss of privacy for someone like Steve Martin and the expectations of his admirers for him to “be” like the Steve Martin image he created came at a high price. Eventually he decided to stop performing the nightly comedy routines that were sucking the life out of him, according to his memoir Born Standing Up. And what happens to those same celebrities when they want to go to the theater as anonymous members of the audience? Some actually do so in disguise.
The point here is that whatever your strengths are, it can be informative to look at the possible downside. If you do, the exercise below might enlighten you about your potential limitations and those characteristics you need to work on. Or you can ask an honest friend for his or her opinion about your strong and weak points. In each case you should think of only those situations in which the strength that is listed below has either limited your ability to achieve your goals or actually done you harm:
- bold self-confidence
- thoughtful, quiet, careful deliberation: a cautious, well-studied approach to problems
- physical attractiveness
- a thick skin (the ability to endure criticism and brush it off)
- very high standards for your performance
- being kind and forgiving
- tenacity or never giving up on solving a problem
- independence from others
- being empathic (feeling the pain of others)
- relying on intuition
- being very rational
- being detail oriented
- focusing on the big picture
I’m sure you can think of many others. If we are to be well-adjusted, sometimes a frank self-evaluation is needed. Whether we know it or not, our best qualities do not fit every situation.
Adaptation and adjustment will eventually be required, no matter how successfully you’ve depended on a particular quality for most of your life. Even such a widely praised trait as assertiveness will sometimes work less well than a quiet, less direct fashion of getting what you want.
Life is a teacher. It expects us to be good students.
The World War II poster at the top was called Save Your Strength For Your Job. It was produced by the Office of Emergency Management’s Office of War Information Department between 1941 and 1945. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.