There are a lot of things that I’m not good at. I can run far, but I’m not very fast. I’m stellar at seeing the big picture, but I'm not as dialed in on the details. I’m up for any kind of adventure, but I struggle with patience for those who lag behind. I’ll find my way around anyone that tells me "No," but I don’t tolerate excuses. I’ve got a knack for sniffing out hard workers, but I have a hard time staying in my lane. I could go on and on — but you get the picture. There are things that I’m good at and things that I’m not. I know which is which (most of the time). I’ve learned through life experiences that there will always be areas that need improvement, but the best return on investment comes from growing your strengths.
When I graduated high school I had already built a successful pool business. It wasn’t easy, but I knew how to work hard, stay committed, and grind away. When I applied to Cornell University following a friend’s recommendation, I thought, This will be a shoo-in. How could they reject a successful business owner? I wildly underestimated the importance of good grades — something I didn’t have in high school — and I was quickly rejected. So I asked myself, What strengths do I have that I can use to my advantage?
Easy. The same ones that built my pool business: hard work, commitment, and grind. If I could apply those strengths to this endeavor, I would come out with a win. And that’s what happened. I worked hard by taking outside classes to show that I was capable of better grades. I committed to the process no matter how many rejections I received (three). And I made the grind my focus. On the fourth try, I was accepted.
If you give some thought to how your strengths can apply to whatever situation you are in, you’ll find that they can be used somewhere. I don’t claim to be the smartest person in any room. In fact, I think my work ethic and willingness to commit are far superior to any intelligence quotient. So I utilized those to forge the path to my success. Other people may have approached the situation differently. Maybe someone who is super strong at networking may have pulled every string they know to get into Cornell. Or a super athletic person may have tried the route of an athletic scholarship. The point is, dialing in on my strengths produced an acceptance letter in the end.
Many of us are afraid to say that we’re not good at something, as if an admission of limitation somehow brands us incapable. Not the case. Sure, a weakness is a weakness, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have something to contribute. For years, I’ve watched teams participate in Spartan races, and one of the best parts about it is watching different team members rise to the top on different obstacles. Some suck at the Rope Climb and need on-the-spot coaching, but kill it during the heavy carries, putting their hand on the backs of their teammates while climbing up the hills with 60 extra pounds. Others require a leg-up on the wall, but provide the step-by-step instructions for the teammate that is hesitant on the monkey bars.
We’ve all got something to offer, so offer up one of your strengths. For example, it’s okay if you’re not stellar at creating ideas, because you can totally nail organization and delegation. Let the ideas person focus on ideas and remember that you’ve got the details of execution covered. It’s important to capitalize on your strengths instead of obsessing over a weakness. This doesn’t mean you’re weak — it means that you understand where the best parts of you can be utilized. That’s the biggest strength there is.
One of the places where you see this concept play out is in professional athletics. Sure, all athletes try to ensure that any weakness they have isn’t a detriment to their performance. But they also know how to capitalize on their strengths. If you look at any of the elite Spartan athletes, you’ll see that they all have their strengths and they’ve got them super dialed in. That was one of the best parts of the Spartan Games — watching each athlete use their best fitness activity to try to rise to the top.
To do that though, you’ve got to let go of your ego. The part of you that doesn’t want to admit you’re not good at something will push you to hyper-focus on improving any weakness you have. But the better investment might actually come from building up those strengths. Think about it: you could put all your training focus into getting just slightly better at heavy carries, or dial in on your running efficiency and crush the between-obstacle sprints. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing here, but keep in mind where to best place your energy.
I enjoy pushing people and pushing myself. I like it when people do something that they never thought they could do, and that all comes from taking a risk. The question is, how will you use your strengths to come out with a win when you take that plunge?