Could Your Weaknesses Derail Your Career?

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In his book, Principles, Ray Dalio asserts that when you encounter a weakness you have four choices. You can: 

  1. Deny them 
  2. Accept them and work at them
  3. Accept your weakness and find ways around them
  4. Change what you are going after

“You shouldn’t be upset if you find out that you’re bad at something—you should be happy that you found out, because knowing that and dealing with it will improve your chances of getting what you want.”

–Ray Dalio, Principles

If you choose denial, then you’ll experience struggle and pain as you repeatedly bump up against your weaknesses. This leads nowhere, yet is the most commonly chosen path. The second option, to turn weaknesses into strengths, doesn’t always work out so well either. It can take a long time to improve a weakness. Sometimes you’ll never be that good, especially if you are competing against people who have your weakness as a strength. Dali says, “the best single clue as to whether you should go down this path is whether the thing you are trying to do is consistent with your nature (i.e., your natural abilities).” He claims the third path is the “most viable” but least chosen. And the fourth path is a great path but requires flexibility and enough awareness to “enjoy a good fit when you find it.”
From a life coaching perspective, I’m also a big fan of options 3 and 4. The coaching philosophy is to embrace your weaknesses—don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by them. Then, orient your life and career around your strengths, delegating weaknesses as much as possible. 

I also agree with Dalio when he says it’s beneficial to focus on your weaknesses if that weakness is related to your strengths. Let’s take Tiger Woods as an example. Tiger Woods’ greatest weakness in golf was the sand pit. He was statistically worse than other pro golfers at getting out of a sand pit. So, his coach had to work with him on this weakness so that it wouldn’t derail his entire game. He had to be able to get back on the course and keep playing. However, his coach still focuses most of his time and energy on working on Tiger Woods’ biggest strength–his long shot. The theory was that if Woods mastered his long shot, he’d avoid getting stuck in a sand pit in the first place! This is a perfect example of working with weaknesses that are related to your strengths.

You don’t want one weak area to take you out of the game entirely, derailing your career. Damage control can be a vital strategy on these occasions. On the other hand, you also don’t want to waste time and energy mastering weaknesses that your should really delegate instead. We don’t care if Woods has a tidy desk or plays the piano well. Those may be weaknesses but neither are relevant to his golfing success.

Ideally, once you’ve identified your natural abilities, talents, and strengths, then you should continue to develop and build upon them to such an extent that you become a highly valued player in your field or career. After all, it is much easier to orient your life around your values and natural abilities than it is to focus on developing weaknesses around your goals.

You might discover that your goals are easier to achieve once you’ve oriented around your values and strengths. For example, you might think you have to work for many long years in a job you don’t enjoy in order to reach financial independence (FIRE) or to support your family or lifestyle. However, if you instead focused on your values and natural talents, you might find that you achieve greater success sooner, which enables you to attract better people and opportunities effortlessly. As an added bonus, you’ll be happier in the process. We are all naturally drawn to the person who is passionate and happy with their work. 

Alternatively, you might discover that you are so happy and fulfilled doing work that comes naturally to you, that you never want to retire because your work is so enjoyable and rewarding. (This is how I feel about life coaching.) When this is the case, the earlier goal of achieving wealth quickly becomes irrelevant. You can slow down and savor your life.

It is for exactly these reasons that we use the most sophisticated computerized career tests to help our clients determine their natural talents and hard-wired abilities—a key assessments in the Career Change Kit. We use these scientific assessments because it is so difficult to see oneself objectively. Even if you think you know your natural abilities, you might be surprised to find a hidden talent that’s  been lying dormant all these years.

From coaching many different people, we also know that even our friends and family can’t always see our hidden talents. I think of a cousin of mine who discovered after taking this assessment mid-life that he has natural musical ability. So, he started learning the piano and gave his first public concert six months later! Only someone with natural talent could become that proficient in such a short time. He commented that he had a feeling something was missing in his life. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. Now, he plays the piano for hours every day and feels completely fulfilled.

While it is worth working on weaknesses so that they don’t derail your career, you need to make sure those weaknesses are worth the effort. Not all weaknesses are worth it. Thankfully, this all becomes crystal clear with the right tools. The sooner you start to orient around your natural talents and abilities, the easier and more fun your work and life will be.


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