Tip #2: Design your life to "Race Your Strengths" – Part 2 of 3
IDEA IN BRIEF:
Most people are familiar the idea of "playing to your strengths" as a guideline for a more successful life. However, we are so inculcated from birth to fix our weaknesses, that it becomes instinctual - particularly under pressure - to resort to this mode. Despite rationally acknowledging the notion of focusing on natural talents, most people fail to make the kinds of changes in their lives to truly live in, and through, their native strengths. There are some obvious reasons for this: Challenge 1) in order to design and live a life designed for your strengths, you not only have to know what they are. But, Challenge 2) you also have to know what your weaknesses are and quit or delegate doing those things. Finally Challenge 3), the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths are not clear enough for most people to make the changes required.
Let's explore each of these challenges in order:
Challenge 1: Know (and accept) the specific nature of your strengths (last post)
Challenge 2: Know (and accept) your weaknesses - then quit or delegate them. I believe that most driven, successful people are facing down a collective adult neurosis. This neurosis is the erroneous continuation of important programming received as children that becomes limiting to adults: the unwillingness to quit. To paraphrase Scott Adams (author of Dilbert) persistence is awesome, until it is stupid. Admitting and accepting weaknesses, and then actually quitting those activities is anathema to our beliefs, our pride, and our culture. We are wired to tough it out, to never quit, never give in. There exists a special kind of vertigo to stand at the precipice of failure and let go and accept. But, in order to spread your wings and fly you first have to become airborne.
I believe that this unwillingness to admit weaknesses and refusal to quit trying to overcome insurmountable obstacles leads many men and women to lead "lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau so elegantly described.
I've written at length about "how to know when to quit" and the two year rule, but even if one rationally grasps the concept, we are hardwired to never give up, so, what to do?
What to do: ascertain areas in your life that are sucking your willpower or appear to have plateaued. Then quit one at a time… (a small one at first.) Often we pursue things because, "we should." Obviously the "biggest quitter" would be a career (or a relationship). But smaller things might be time-consuming hobbies, activities, projects, committees etc. I think the story of Warren Buffett is a great example of a "should" that he quit. Warren, through his amazing investing skills had become one of the richest men in the world, but until recently, he had not done much in the way of "giving back" in terms of philanthropy and charitable work. In an interview on (CNN) Warren finally admitted his weakness and then in a brilliant move, gave his money to Bill and Melinda Gates to give away.
“What can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it? Who wouldn't select Tiger Woods to take his place in a high-stakes golf game? That's how I feel about this decision about my money.” – Warren Buffet on giving his money to the Gates Foundation
When I first heard this story I started thinking if there were any "should's" I could quit. Suddenly it dawned on me. At the time I was the head coach for a local speed skating club, not because I was good at it or liked it (I was not and did not) but because "I should." The sport had given me so much and so many had volunteered their time for me,that I "should" want to be a coach and give back… Except I wasn't great at it and didn't like it. So I broke it down… I DID like skating with the kids, teaching them technique and relays… what I didn't like was writing a program each week, doing drills and most of all, all the yelling required to get 35 kids to line up and do the program. Quickly I discussed this with the club president and we agreed I would step down as the head coach and instead become an assistant technical coach and focus on what I liked and did best: skating with the kids and providing technical advice. The relief I felt was palpable - I didn't even realize how much guilt I was carrying for not "loving" being a coach… because "I should."
What "should's" can you quit/delegate? Here's a few I've quit and a few more to consider: I've quit: mowing the lawn, shoveling, driving to the airport (Thanks to Uber), driving to the city (Uber/train), my consulting job, and 2 significant long term relationships that had become toxic. Think about it - what can you quit that will allow you to spend more time living in your strengths. The PTA? A school or work or charitable committee? yard work, housecleaning? Snow shoveling, owning (and maintaining) a car? Owning and maintaining a second home – or even a first home? Magazine subscriptions, cable TV, social media accounts… what time-sucking “should’s” can YOU quit?
I'm not suggesting abdicating responsibility or shirking your duties or not having discipline, but what I am suggesting is that you make a purposeful investment of your social energy and willpower as they are depletable resources. If participating in the homeowners association or PTA or coaching little league is leaving you with less energy for your spouse or career or your kids, that may be a poor investment of time.
COMING NEXT: Challenge 3 - Does investing in strengths really pay off?