One of the things I do with clients is review the results of their strengths and personality assessments. Virtually every one of them scans quickly over their positive feedback and zooms in on the things that make them cringe, like the strengths at the bottom of their list or the potentially negative attributes of their personality styles.

I used to try to bring their attention right back to their strengths, because that’s where the real potential lies, but soon realized that we needed to untangle the knotted feelings around imperfection before we could ever get to the good stuff.

Here are some of the things I tell them, which might help you if you tend to focus on your shortcomings too:

  • That knotted feeling is normal. Universal even. We’re social creatures, wired to care what others think of us. I carried a giant knot around for a long time before I learned how to be kinder to myself and look at myself differently.
  • Chances are, you’ve had negative experiences that bring up pangs of regret or shame when you look at your “weaknesses” and you’d do anything to avoid going through those again. That’s universal too: the least common strength among people worldwide is self-regulation; most of us know the disappointment or embarrassment of not sticking with something we promised ourselves we’d do.
  • Welcome to the human race. No one is perfect at everything.
  • However, think of a time when you DID use self-regulation. (There are always examples.) What mattered to you enough to use it? Aha, so you CAN use it when you really want or need to. You don’t totally suck at it.
  • And the good news is, there are lots of other things you ARE good at, and you can use some of them INSTEAD of self-regulation — or whatever you consider your “lesser strengths.”
  • You can even build any strength you choose to. One of my lowest when I first took the VIA strengths assessment was forgiveness. I had an okay score on it but it was low relative to my other strengths, and I was mortified; I immediately remembered times I’d walked away from friendships or written people off without a second chance. I’ve worked really hard on this, and life has given me some big-ol’ opportunities to practice forgiveness that I’ve handled much more graciously than I would have before.
  • The knotted feeling can and will come back. Being kind to yourself and seeing yourself positively is a life-long practice… and you can do it. The knots can get looser and looser!
  • So let’s take a look at your top strengths and get started.

It’s Like a Sailboat…

Here’s another way to look at strengths and weaknesses.

Picture a sailboat.

The hull represents your weaknesses. It might have cracks or holes and the potential to sink you. Patch those up until you’re seaworthy, but don’t obsess over them. Even with the most beautiful, perfect hull in the marina, you’ll never get anywhere unless you hoist your sails.

Your strengths are your sails. They are what will carry you forward, fill with energy behind you and take you wherever you set your destination.

What do you think?

What’s your experience with strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any ideas to share that could help someone else? Leave your comments below.