If you are like me, you want to improve all areas of your life.
Trying to improve any area of weakness you feel you possess can make you at times go crazy. Why the hell can I not just do these simple little tasks? Why can I not for the life of me remember all these little details. Why do I feel like I am not making progress? Lastly, why am I always stressed out about the same things year in and year out? Well, this article is not meant to pump you up to just get out there and improve everything you suck at. Instead, I am offering the opposite advice. That is, you probably should stop trying to improve your weaknesses and, instead, focus on what you are actually good at. Read on to find out why most lifestyle coaches are wrong.
For years, I suffered with the same paranoia that comes with trying to become superman. What I have learned over the years, though, is that trying to improve all areas of weakness is a little like this. Suppose you are an avid and natural runner. The most you have ran is a marathon. You want to become an ultra marathon runner.
However, you determine that an area of weakness you have is that you do not understand how exactly your leg or foot muscles work. You think that by better understanding the mechanics of your body that you will be able to move them quicker and for longer periods of time. Hence, you think this will help you with your endeavor to run an ultra marathon.
So, despite you dropping out of school to start a business at a young age because you hated learning from books, you decide to go get your GED and then eventually get into medical school.
Once you get through medical school you feel you will then have the knowledge to be able to understand the body a bit better and, thus, attempt to run an ultra marathon. Keep in mind, you have 3 friends that are already sports medicine doctors and then a cousin who already runs ultra marathons.
The problem with this line of reasoning is threefold:
The point I am trying to illustrate is that it is much wiser to have laser focus on what you are actually good at and not spend your time trying to improve areas that aren’t as natural to you.
- It would have been much quicker to focus on what you are already capable of doing, which is running a marathon, and building simply off that by increased training;
- Trying to fight the uphill battle by going to medical school will greatly prolong what you are actually trying to accomplish because it will go against your natural inclinations or abilities. Not only does the math not make any sense in doing things this way, but even if it did not take that long to get a medical degree, it will not be easy and ultimately is unlikely to really help you;
- You already know 3 people with the skills and expertise you are hoping to gain and a cousin who already has the strength of which you are trying to obtain!
In the example above, how much more could you have accomplished if you spent all that time and energy trying to improve an area of weakness and, instead, poured all of that into your natural ability to simply run?
I want to be clear on what I am not saying. I am not saying that you should simply ignore ALL areas of weakness.
I am simply saying that you should be careful in where you are spending your energy and time. Think of energy and time as an investment. What you choose to spend your energy and time doing should have a return on its investment.
If you choose to change an area of weakness that generates a hefty positive OVERALL return, then it likely should be done.
If, however, you choose to change an area of weakness that does not generate a positive return, or it does not generate a hefty OVERALL return, then it likely should be avoided.
Let me explain. Say that your area of weakness is staying organized but your strength is coming up with new ideas. In terms of ability or results, let’s use a 1-10 rating system where 1 means poor and 10 means exceptional. Let’s assume that your current organizational ability is at a 1. In other words, you suck. Let’s also assume that your uncanny ability to generate new ideas is at a 9. Keep in mind these numbers are subjective and in real life would be hard to gauge, but they are being used to paint a picture.
Let’s say you spend a few months really improving your ability to stay organized and are able to get your skill level in this category to a 3. We can now say you only slightly suck. At this point, though, you need to analyze some of your other areas of strength or weakness. If, for example, your new idea generating ability has suffered as a result of you spending more time trying to either learn to stay organized or by just the time it takes to stay organized to the point where this category is now at a 6, is it really beneficial that you are now a little better at staying organized? If all of your other strengths have remained at the same level of skill as before, and you simply have just leveled up in your ability to stay organized, then sure it was a good move.
I would argue from experience, though, that a lot of the various weaknesses that I have tried to improve over the years have very rarely been without subtracting from one of my strengths. It is often better to choose areas of weakness that, if changed, would have no net loss of any of your strengths. As an example, suppose you truly only needed 8 hours of sleep such that any minute you slept over 8 hours had no positive impact on any other area of your life whatsoever. Problem is, you currently have the weakness of sleeping 11 hours a day. Here, changing this weakness where you gain 3 hours of life each day is something that you should work to actively change.
There are various areas of weakness like this, such as what you eat, drink, think about, etc. Very rarely will those types of weaknesses, when changed, reduce your ability in another area.
To illustrate the importance of being able to focus exclusively on your areas of strength, let me give you a real life example. I oversee several hundred people at my W2 job with various levels of leadership that report to me. For the past several years, I have struggled with trying to maintain a stellar system of organization. A lot of data gets thrown around daily with tons of initiatives, directives, and expectations. I am good at problem solving and creative thinking. It comes natural to me to drive change, push results and expectations, and come up with various systems in order to meet various company objectives. I can see the big picture and have a vision, but the small details of execution often got left in the dust.
What does not come natural to me, however, is staying organized with all of that data. Future meeting agendas, past meeting agendas, action items, who is doing what, when are things do, what are my managers working on, when are they supposed to start making progress, setting meetings or brief update chats, etc.
For many years my inability to create a system that worked for me left me drained and feeling unaccomplished. This quotes describes the feeling I had when trying to improve all my various areas of weakness – “Even after all of my successes, it is my failures that haunt me.”
That is, until I simply stopped trying.
I remember hearing in a podcast a quote from Sarah Blakely where she said “As soon as you can afford to, hire your weaknesses.”
It is interesting how there are times in life when a simple sentence can change your whole perception and future course of action. When I heard that, I immediately thought to myself, maybe instead of beating myself up day in and day out over the fact that I cannot for the life of me do certain types of tasks, I should instead find someone that can.
To put differently, instead of trying to force myself into creating and maintaining a vast complex system of data keeping so that I can easily push responsibility and efforts forward, I should instead focus on what I am good at. Then, find someone that has strengths that correspond to my weaknesses.
After hearing that, I immediately put a plan in place where I listed out all of my strengths and all of my weaknesses. For weaknesses I put “organization, keeping all data fluid and live, meeting notes, future meeting agendas, sending emails, sending calendar invites, etc.” After this, I wrote down a list of names of people that I trusted and that excelled in those areas. After meeting with each one on one, I decided on who would be a direct member of my team that would focus exclusively on those specific items that were my areas of weakness.
Funny thing was, the individual I offered the extra responsibilities to said “seriously, that’s all you need me to do?” I was almost confused by the response and so reiterated exactly all that would need to be done. To that she replied “right, I understand the scope of work that needs to be done, but that seems really easy?”
I then explained how their response was, while initially confusing, exactly what would be expected. Staying organized, following a system with set parameters, and ensuring tasks get completed were exactly the strengths that this person possessed. It would be exactly how you would think they respond, in the same way I would respond if someone asked me to help think through various problems and come up with solutions. This would actually excite me and I, too, would likely respond with “seriously, thats all you need me to do?” To which they would also likely be confused.
Once I got this individual running with the new responsibilities, it did wonders for my level of productivity (and sanity) for many reasons:
“Good for you. It’s easy to just not try to improve and just hire a bunch of people. What about for us people down here on earth?”
- It was a huge source of internal stress and pressure trying and continuously failing at becoming Mr. Organized. As a result, I never felt like I was making forward progress, because I was too bogged down by all the details and failed attempts at trying to overcome what did not come natural to me. I could not effectively fly the plane while also trying to figure out how many jack daniels shooters I should be storing for passengers or how many cheeseburgers first class CEO’s may eat on this trip;
- Since staying organized and live with data does not come natural to me, it took much longer than it takes my assistant to do, so there is an overall positive reduction in total time wasted;
- It allowed me to focus on what I am good at. I could then spend my time working with employees, growing and developing leadership, holding meetings with clearly set agendas and very clear details on what the previous meetings were about, etc. without feeling like I need to spend more time staying organized, since I know that is already being handled. Overall, this greatly enhanced my ability to stay focused, happy, and to keep the plane flying in the right coordinates.
Knew that one was coming. Okay, so properly framed without all the rude insults, the question is: what do you do if you can’t just hire someone or put someone in a position to do the things you are not good at? I think there are 3 main ways of handling this:
- Do nothing. Focus exclusively on your strengths and forget your areas of weakness. While thing’s may get a bit sloppy in certain areas, the thought is what comes natural to you should reap bigger benefits than the downsides of your weaknesses;
- Try to improve your areas of weakness the best you can without sacrificing too much of your strengths. Or maybe it is okay if for a little while instead of being able to spend 10 hours doing what you are good at, to be spending 5 hours doing what you are good at and another 5 hours doing what you are not good at;
- As soon as you can afford to pay and hire someone for your areas of weakness, do so. If you are reading this site, you want to create future money trees. You may find even early on that hiring someone is the way to go even if you are not making much money yet. There are many websites where you can hire freelance employees for even just $6-$8/hr. Even if you only need them initially for 2-3 hours a week, it may only cost you less than $100 a month to have someone on your team that helps you with your areas of weakness. if by spending $100 a month it saves you 12 hours a month, then it may be money well spent. Or, have a significant other, family member, friend, or whoever help you for free or figure out a clever way to pay them. I would hands down choose option 3, every single time. Time is limited and should be viewed as money, so hiring someone could perhaps be the answer to increasing both your time and money.
The last thing I want to say about improving areas of weakness or focusing on your strengths is that there is power in what comes natural. Not only power, but a multiplier. I used to swim competitively for years. If I swam 25 meters freestyle in 16 seconds, it would be easier and far quicker for me to achieve a 15 second time than it would be for someone who has never swam before to achieve a 15 second time. If I already read 4 books a month and have been doing this for 20 years, but someone else has never even read a full book, it would be easier for me to either keep reading 4 books a month or to increase to 5 books a month, than for someone else to do the same who has never read a book.
It is easier to keep something in motion than to get in motion. It is easier for a rocket to continue its path after takeoff than for the rocket to take off. More energy is expended on the initial takeoff than when its already in motion.
Think of your natural abilities in this way. It’s easier to stay and improve the course if you are already on the map. Trying to improve areas of weakness can cause too many detours and random deviations than simply focusing on what you are good at. Trying to improve certain areas of weakness can act as a parachute on your rocket to success.
Okay, let’s wrap this up. This is ultimately what I am trying to say:
- If something comes natural to you, focus on strengthening those areas.
- If something does not come natural to you, only focus on trying to improve those areas if in doing so it does not start to change what comes natural to you.
- Only try to change what comes natural to you if it’s something that overall has too many negative consequences, where if you actually worked to change them you end up with a greater positive effect on being able to meet the objectives you are trying to accomplish.