Want to know how strong you really are?

By Jared Kirkwood

I recently sat down with a senior in high school who described to me the thought process behind her college application. She talked about her GPA (obviously), extracurricular activities, how she started a club in school because it shows leadership, where she volunteered her time outside of school, what classes she took to shave off some time in college, and what strengths she is planning on highlighting on her application essays.

This is a common story for many people. I can feel many of you nodding your head in agreement because you have met this student, perhaps even have them living in your home.

With this emphasis on the strengths, is there any room for weaknesses? Why is it that we have eliminated all weaknesses from our resumes, social media platforms, or even our relationships?

Neglecting our weaknesses has exponential implications on our sense of self.

It may express itself in:

  • fostering a lack of self-awareness
  • keeping all relationships at the surface level, never revealing anything real
  • developing inauthentic connections with people
  • covering and hiding because if people knew our weaknesses they wouldn’t like us, respect us, or trust us

So what is the role of weakness in developing an authentic self?

Weaknesses allow us to confront the parts of ourselves that we are not particularly proud of. And when we acknowledge those things we discover it isn’t as bad as it originally seemed.

We have two actions available when considering our weaknesses: avoid them completely or flip them into a strength.

Avoid: some weaknesses are dangerous, habitual, and need to be broken. Substance abuse, self-loathing, gossip, or greed (to name a few) are ones we need to develop systems and structures in our lives to prevent ourselves from giving in. Imagine these being holes in our character and integrity - we must build a hedge around each of these weaknesses to prevent us from falling through.

Flip into a strength: there are some weaknesses that are waiting to be challenged. People-pleasing and over-analyzing are traits that can become significant skills given the right effort. A people-pleaser who learns to put others before herself, while still caring for her own needs becomes a great servant. An over-analyzer who deploys that skill to study, research, and consider all available options becomes a powerful strategist when they learn the right time for action.

I will admit, it’s not fun to reflect on our weaknesses. If you are like me, acknowledging my weaknesses brings out my insecurities and overwhelms me - like I’m drowning in the parts of my life I don’t want anyone to see.

T. S. Eliot says, “if you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”

Perhaps reflecting, discovering, and acknowledging our weaknesses is the measuring stick we need to see how strong we actually are. True strength comes from a holistic view of self. And for most it’s amazing what we are truly capable of.

What would it look like to create a discussion with a young adult about their weaknesses that felt safe and inviting? What weakness would they acknowledge and avoid? Which would they deliberately flip into strengths?

 

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