Weaknesses That Matter, Weaknesses That Don’t

Yesterday’s post on strengths and weaknesses generated some interesting follow-up questions. Much of it can be reduced to the following question, which certainly deserves an intelligent answer:

Isn’t it a bad idea to work on a weak area that you aren’t very good at? Shouldn’t we spend more time working on our strengths and just accept our weaknesses?

In general, yes, as long as the weakness can be isolated and doesn’t detract from your strengths. You’ll often derive more benefit from continuing to boost your strengths than you will from working on your weaknesses. But this doesn’t hold true when we’re talking about universal human qualities that affect all areas of our lives, which was the subject of yesterday’s post.

For example, I’m not particularly good at music. When I was a teenager, my brother tried to teach me guitar in exchange for me teaching him computer programming. Neither of us got very far. We were both happier and more successful sticking with our individual strengths. Consequently, he went on to become a musician (he lives in Japan and even sings in Japanese), and I became a programmer. I’m still no good at music, and he isn’t much of a programmer.

A skill-based weakness like music, automotive repair, or swimming can be isolated from the other areas of your life. It needn’t diminish your ability to capitalize on your primary strength. My inability to do an oil change won’t prevent me from writing about philosophy, unless of course I want to write a book like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 🙂

But the original article wasn’t about skill-based weaknesses. That article was about universal areas of human existence: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. We all have physical bodies, minds, relationships with other people, and beliefs about reality. A weakness in any one of these areas can affect all parts of our lives. They cannot be so easily isolated.

If I fail to develop my music skills, it’s not going to hurt my writing. But if I neglect my health, it most certainly will affect my writing. I can ignore the fact that I have a piano in my house. But I can’t ignore the fact that I have a physical body.

If I learn to master the piano, it’s unlikely to improve my writing much. (You could say that music is a language, and that learning a new language could improve my prose, but that’s stretching the analogy a bit.) But if I master good health habits, that can have major benefits on my writing. I’ll concentrate better, I’ll have more energy for writing, and I’ll probably live longer.

Your body, mind, relationships, and beliefs are too significant to ignore. A weakness in any one of these areas matters a great deal. Just as shooting, passing, and rebounding are fundamentals in basketball, these are the fundamentals of personal development. Neglect any one of them, and your overall performance in the game of life will suffer.

Even if you ignore all the fancy stuff and just focus on these fundamentals, you can spend a lifetime working on them. Imagine a person who has mastered these four areas, achieving vibrant health, an efficient intellect, loving relationships, and accurate and empowering beliefs. That’s about as good as human beings get.

By all means keep working on your strengths, but don’t neglect the fundamentals: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Your particular situation may not give you a very fair shot at across-the-board mastery, but do the best you can. Stephen Hawking may never become an athlete, but he can still make healthy food choices. Most people reading this can do better than to spend their whole lives as a dumb jock, an overweight geek, or a reclusive guru. Boost your performance in the fundamentals, and your ability to capitalize on your strengths will improve dramatically.