Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On strength

It's a common relief society topic: How to turn weaknesses into strengths.

It's also a popular job interview question: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a [insert profession here]?

But what is strength, really? I found the coolest definition today:
A strength is "an activity that makes you feel strong." It is an activity where the doing of it invigorates you. Before you do it, you find yourself instinctively looking forward to it. While you are doing it you don't struggle to concentrate, but instead you become so immersed that time speeds up and you lose yourself in the present moment. And after you are finished doing it, you feel authentic, connected to the best parts of who you really are. (Source: Copyblogger)
Imagine that: strength being defined as something that makes you strong.

I tend to think of strengths as something you're good at, and weaknesses as something you need to work on. However, there are several flaws to this argument, starting with the fact that it's possible to be good at something you don't enjoy doing.

For example, in middle school I decided to learn to play the flute. My decision to play this particular instrument was based entirely on the capability the instrument case had of being stuffed into my backpack. I was proud to join the Band Geek Club, but I wasn't dedicated enough to lug a 50-pound instrument around school where all could see and judge.

As it turned out, I was a fair flute player. I just didn't like playing. My friends didn't understand why I wanted to quit marching band after just one year or why I wanted to focus on choir in high school rather than band. I'm sure some thought it was a shame that I didn't care about my skill, as if by not playing the flute I was throwing away a rare and beautiful talent.

But playing the flute wasn't empowering for me. I dreaded practicing, I hated performing in concerts, and I was incredibly self-conscious whenever I thought anyone could hear me. In short, I felt weak when I played the flute. I get the same feeling when I go to mingles and parties bursting with people I don't know, when I try to do math in my head, or when I'm writing a white paper or research paper. I wouldn't categorize all of these things as weaknesses per se, but they certainly don't speed up time or refuel my energy tank.

Contrast those things with playing the piano, writing, bossing people around, reading, crafting, and playing softball. Again, I wouldn't categorize all of these things as my core strengths, but these are the types of things I want to fill my days with. It's the reason school doesn't overwhelm me, because my homework requires me to do things that "connect me to the best parts of who I am." It's the reason I enjoy leadership responsibilities, even though they add stress to my life.

There's still a lot to be said for turning discomfort into empowerment, but I like the idea that the things that make you happy also make you stronger.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I've always felt mildly guilty for not liking some things I'm good at, but i just always forget about them. I like the idea that strength is not just an ability, but an emotion.