Streamline Your Life

Embracing Your Strengths

Perhaps you can relate to the following story.

I always felt different from other kids while growing up. I had no interest in joining many group activities at school, which seemed boring to me. My interests were widespread and varied.  I enjoyed writing, game design, constructing mazes, running fantasy baseball leagues, creating an entire society out of a set of about 150 matchbox cars, filling rooms with booby-traps for friends during Halloween, building mini-golf courses through our house, designing fantasy ping-pong tournaments (I am not kidding) and being bizarrely inventive in general.

So it was a strange adjustment for me at school and beyond when I had to start learning organization skills, doing homework, following directions and taking notes. I was never great at these things. Soon I began to feel bad for my strengths – I wanted to fit in and feel accepted, so I began to “get good” at what other kids seemed to be good at. Sooner or later, I became ashamed of many of the strengths and interests that I naturally had, because they felt weird and different. I was a sensitive kid, which didn’t help.

Social Averaging

I’m not alone. Plenty of kids have to suffer through a process I’ll call “social averaging.” (A term that probably already exists in other forms relating to different things) By my definition, this is what occurs when we are told to work on fixing our weaknesses rather than focus on our natural talents. Social averaging is dangerous to young minds. It discourages intrinsic curiosity and self-direction that is naturally geared toward ones’ strengths. It also makes kids feel bad about themselves (because it focuses on what we can’t do.) This process leads to discouragement and eventually to children giving in and adapting.kidsplaying

Promoters of the education system is obsessed with creating “well rounded” children who are proficient at a lot of things and are eventually “marketable” instead of fostering areas of their greatest strengths. We have double, triple, and even quadruple majors in college now for crying out loud. This is not good.

Still don’t agree that this is a negative thing?

Let me spell it out for you more clearly: Our whole SOCIETY would benefit if this practice would end. Individuals would have more time to help bolster various fields and make potentially great contributions to the world. This is a bit of a balancing act, of course. Educators have to keep other students in mind when forming lesson plans. What works for one person will not work for everyone. The solution may just be in letting kids customize what they learn by choosing certain classes from many possibilities. Unfortunately this trend towards social averaging may never really go away.

What to Do

vespaYou can make a difference in your own life by reversing the damage that has been done. It takes a great amount of time to train out all the “I need to improve” voices in your head and replace them with, “I am great at this!”

Want an example? I am a bad multitasker, for one. If there is too much going on around me, too many ringing phones, people walking in and out of the room, the quality of my work drops. (I think a lot of us are actually bad at this and don’t realize it.)

Should my aim be to practice multitasking a lot to get better at it? No way! That’s just a stupid waste of my time.  Someone else will always be better at it than me because this isn’t where my strengths lie. I should close the door, turn off the music, and concentrate so I can do my best work!

This makes the most sense when viewed rationally, but so many of us are busy beating ourselves up for what we are not good at that we forget about where we shine.

Finding Your Strengths

Try this exercise. Write down at least five things you used to do as a kid. These things cannot include the following: Watching TV, playing video games (unless you were creating them) or hanging out with friends. The first two are distractions and the third is something most of us do. Don’t read on to the next paragraph until you are done.


I’ll bet anything that you are above average in ability in all five of those activities (or at least four.)

Are you integrating some of these strengths into your life? If not, consider why you are not and at what point you were told that you couldn’t seriously pursue one of them. Perhaps you have been focusing on your weaknesses too much over the years.


1 Comment

  • Wendy September 12, 2007 at 10:30 am

    I agree with you, Mike. I think we’re mainly educating generalists, and that’s what creates a dumbed-down culture. A good teacher can make all the difference if he or she is able to spot a child’s strength and encourage it. Sadly, in today’s crowded classrooms, that doesn’t happen often enough– especially when teachers are increasingly paid to “teach to the test.” Thanks for the good piece of writing.


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