When to Invest in Your Weaknesses (and When to Save Your Time and Energy)
Our obsession with quick fixes has created a culture in which any perceived weakness seems to demand an immediate solution. Overweight? Choose from the Paleo Diet, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or hundreds of other programs designed to help you drop the pounds.
Buried in debt? Bad in bed? Struggling to find your life’s purpose? Not only are there courses and products you can buy to address each of these weaknesses, but there are skilled salespeople hawking them -- practically screaming that you have to take action immediately if you ever want to be successful.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that nearly half (48 percent) of American adults say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional lives.
In our can-do culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at every weakness as a challenge to overcome (even though this is objectively impossible). According to psychologist Alex Linley, interviewed by Psychology Today, “Based on research with thousands of people, it’s unusual for a genuine weakness to become a genuine strength.”
But the problem isn't that most weaknesses can’t be solved or turned into a strength. It’s that we shouldn’t be investing in every weakness we have. We can’t all be strong in all areas, after all; so why waste the time and energy to turn around every issue?
Which ones deserve our attention? Ask yourself the following three questions before deciding whether or not to invest in a fix.
1. What will be the cost to turn my weakness into a strength?
My first consideration about whether or not to invest in a weakness is resources. Here, I refer to the four factors of time, money, bandwidth and opportunity cost.
Time and money are obvious. If it’s going to cost me years of my life and thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars to turn a weakness into strength, I'll ask, is it worth the investment? Of course a weakness that can be remedied in a couple of weeks -- at far less expense -- may be a different story.
Time and money. When faced with a weakness around making videos, self-help author Steve Pavlina put a few hundred dollars into a basic setup -- using clothes pins in place of fancy clips, and a shower curtain as a light diffuser, to determine whether or not a greater investment would be worth it down the road. According to Pavlina, writing on his blog:
“Since I’m fairly new to creating videos, I didn’t want to spend a ton on this till I gain[ed] more experience and [got] a feel for which direction I want[ed] to go in the long run, so I put this together relatively quickly and inexpensively. I [could\ always upgrade later.”
The bandwidth. For me, personally, "bandwidth" considers time and money investment in light of everything else going on in my life. Even if I’m willing to commit to a long-term project -- and I have the capital available -- how does that commitment stack up against everything else I’m doing? Which of my current projects would addressing a new weakness affect, if any?
Opportunity cost. You can’t do everything at once. Focusing on one weakness means letting others slide (or scaling down your investment in other projects on a broader scale). That investment needs to be worth it to justify the opportunity cost to other weaknesses.
Back when I was first starting up my former agency, Single Grain, I let my health slide. I’d put on 40 pounds and was so out of shape that I was winded just going upstairs to our office.
I ran through the four factors above, and I knew that -- even though it would take a commitment of energy and a compromise in the bandwidth I’d allotted to other projects, the opportunity cost of being unhealthy was too big to ignore. I radically changed my diet and made time for kickboxing, weight-lifting, hiking, biking and rock climbing. Within six months, I'd lost 42 pounds.
2. How important is it to me that this weakness becomes a strength?
I’m not a great cook. I can handle basic dishes, but I struggle with anything more complicated than spaghetti.
But that’s not really a problem for me. I’m surrounded by great food in Austin, and when I’m traveling. Not being able to cook something myself doesn’t change my quality of life significantly. But one weakness that is a problem? My fear of public speaking.
Back when I was thinking about this, I knew that, in order to build a brand for myself and my companies, I needed to be out on the conference circuit. And I’ve always loved sharing my knowledge and the lessons I’ve learned on my blog and YouTube channel. I just hated doing that sharing on stage, in front of hundreds of people.
Investing in my weak cooking skills never made sense. I may not be a great cook, but I don’t need to be. Getting over my public speaking weakness, on the other hand, was hugely important in my ability to grow my companies. It’s been worth all the sacrifices I’ve made and the discomfort I’ve faced to become stronger in that area.
3. Is my weakness an opportunity for somebody else?
I’m not saying that a concern for others should always be your top priority. But there are definitely cases where letting others shine makes more sense than trying to become strong on your own.
My Single Grain co-founder AJ Kumar is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever known. I’ve studied sales extensively and gotten good as a result, but AJ is one of those rare people who’s naturally talented at connecting people and products.
I used to compare my sales style to his, thinking that mine was weak by comparison. What I eventually came to realize was that not only was my different style of sales working fine for me, but that trying to turn myself into AJ would be a disservice to him. By letting him take the lead on sales, I allowed his strengths to complement my weaker areas.
The company was better for it, and my time was freed up to work on other weaknesses that really moved the needle for us.
Prioritizing investments in yourself
Usually, a weakness is not an emergency. Despite what external forces would have you believe, you don’t have to fix everything you see as being “wrong” with yourself.
Instead, prioritize your investments in yourself. Keep your available resources in mind, weigh the impact of solving one weakness over another and check the broader perspective. The answer of when to invest in your weaknesses and when to save your time and money will become clear.
How do you decide when to invest in yourself? Leave me a note in the comments below sharing your experiences: