The Power of Knowing My Limitations
by Jonathan Woolridge, WeAlign Certified Coach
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
Have you ever had a moment when you felt completely inadequate? For me it had to do with songwriting. I’m a musician and I’ve been playing guitar and singing for 16 years. Even though I’ve written some songs along the way, the process has felt like trying to climb a tree with fins.
Several years ago, I took part in a Facebook songwriting challenge. We were supposed to write and record 1 song a month for 6 months. This seemed like a low bar, so I decided to give it a shot. After a month and a half of songwriting at an agonizingly slow pace, I finally had a mostly finished draft and a recording. We were required to post our songs to the Facebook group, so I did.
After posting my first song, I saw that a high school student that I had mentored from church was also in the challenge and had already posted his first 2 songs. As I listened to his first one, I felt a pit form in my stomach, my heart rate went up, and I felt jealousy rising in me. And then I was angry. I turned his song off after 30 seconds because I couldn’t take how good it was. Here was another musician, 10+ years my junior, with more natural writing ability in his pinky, than I had in my entire body. I felt so small. I felt small, because I was basing my identity on an area of weakness and not strength.
These kinds of realizations happen for people all the time in every industry. I’m sure you’ve experienced something like this and probably have someone in mind who picked up a skill or job task so quickly it seemed like they had been doing it their whole life. When I heard this student’s music, it showed me, in bright neon letters, that my natural talents didn’t lie in songwriting.
To cheer me up, some people might say, “That’s alright, if it’s your dream keep at it! If you work hard enough, you can be as good as Bono or Paul McCartney! After all, they had to start somewhere didn’t they?” While this is an encouraging sentiment, there is an unintended lie at its center. The lie is this, “Anyone can do anything. All it takes is hard work.” It might be insulting that I would be bold enough to call that a lie, but please hear me out. Donald Clifton, the father of strengths psychology and creator of the CliftonStrengths Assessment, said in his book Soar With Your Strengths, “To theorize that ‘anyone can do anything’ assumes that all people are clones, possessing an identical set of talents. This, of course, is false. We are each one of a kind, with a unique set of strengths.” You see, if each of us is truly unique, then some of us must have a propensity for certain things over others.
Now I’m not saying we should never focus on areas of weakness, but if that’s the ONLY areas we focus on, then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Even worse, focusing solely on improving our limitations may cause us to never discover the natural talents within us. We all have genius in one area or another, but the problem is that most people focus on what they think they should be good at rather than the areas that they could be best at. If we try to force our way to excellence, chances are, we will arrive at mediocrity. When we know who we are and can unleash our strengths exponential growth will occur!
What natural talent have you been ignoring in your life? What areas of weakness have you tried to turn into strength? As 2019 comes to a close and we look forward to new things in 2020, I challenge you to let yourself off the hook! I challenge you to discover your natural talents and hone them! I challenge you to step into the recognition that who you are isn’t mediocre. You are a genius and exponential growth is waiting for you if you focus on your strengths!