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My Biggest Weakness(es)
What do we do with those irritating things about ourselves that we can't change?
I’ve taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder test a couple of times over the years for various jobs. If it’s not something you’re familiar with, it’s one of those personality-typing tests, like the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram, that helps you understand yourself and how you fit into the world.
This one in particular is very affirming, calling out your top five strengths (out of 34) and how to use them to your best advantage for success in the workplace and beyond.
(If you’re curious, mine are: Futuristic, Ideation, Intellection, Empathy, and Input. I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.)
I’m a big believer in self improvement, and if there’s something about myself that I can fix, I like to give it a try. I’m constantly journaling, reading books like The Big Leap, Deep Work, The War of Art, Skin Cleanse, and Essentialism, and taking courses by writers and thought leaders I admire. My spine is even fused from a corrective surgery for severe scoliosis when I was 16.
Basically, if there’s something wrong, I want to fix — or otherwise overcome — it.
The Clifton StrengthsFinder test can also identify your… well, they don’t explicitly call them weaknesses. Rather, they refer to them as “the themes at the bottom of your profile.” But of course our minds interpret these as “the strengths I’m worst at”, or simply “weaknesses”. (Or at least, mine does. Maybe this is something I should work on…)
The instant I received my results, my eyes zoomed directly to the bottom of the report, eager to spot new areas for improvement, gaps to fill.
And there it was, at #34 — Consistency.
I am extremely, painfully aware that this “biweekly” newsletter comes out closer to once a month. And that my “weekly” Write Now podcast comes out… uhh… sporadically, at best. It frustrates me that I have such difficulty sticking to a schedule and consistently producing, and it seems like something that should be easy to improve.
Perhaps you’re saying now, as I have said to myself over and over again for decades, “Seriously, Sarah — just block off time on your schedule once a week to record. It’s not hard.”
And that honestly makes it worse — because yeah, it’s not hard. Everyone else is somehow able to do it. Why can’t I?
I’ve talked about things we’re not good at before, and how hard we should strive toward perfecting ourselves. But — and you may already know this — human beings are fundamentally imperfect. And, despite our best efforts, we can’t be good at every single thing.
Yet we live in a can-do society where there’s a handy “Top 10 Ways to ___” listicle for just about everything. I looked up some of these recently regarding the whole Consistency thing, and here were some of the tips:
Establish your goals in advance
Experiment with block scheduling
Develop better habits and routines
F.O.C.U.S. — Follow One Course Until Success
Strive for consistent thinking
Increase your willpower
It’s hard not to look at suggestions like these without some element of frustration (and perhaps even bitterness). They’re all obvious, and they’re all fixes that I have diligently tried — I promise.
Perhaps they’re even similar to the suggestions that you’ve researched for your own weaknesses and/or perceived shortcomings. Perhaps you’ve seen “increase your willpower” before in your efforts to exercise more (or at all), get to work or class on time, avoid sugar, manage your stress levels, or fold that ever-growing pile of laundry atop your chair.
And yet for whatever reason, no matter how many times we attempt these solutions, we fail to bridge the gap.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, not just because of a discussion I had with a friend about the StrengthsFinder test, but because of a recent (misguided) attempt to wean myself off of some of the medications I take.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder over a decade ago, and it’s one of the things I hate most about myself. I don’t want to be depressed. But with the right medications, exercise, and lots of mindset work, I am able to live a joyful, lovely life.
Several months ago, I realized that I was feeling fairly happy and well-adjusted. Life felt good. And my hope outweighed my rationality as I thought to myself, “I’m cured!”
Of course, I realized later that the reason I felt better was because my medications were doing their job — but at the time, my hope had pushed me into a sort of delusion.
So, determined to stop “having to rely” on medications (and notably, without consulting my doctor), I decreased my dose by half.
And at first, since the drugs remain in one’s system for a while, things were fine.
Until they weren’t.
Until people (including readers of this newsletter) started to notice that I was less and less okay.
Until Tim and several close friends began to ask the dreaded question, “Hey, are you taking your meds?”
At the time, hearing that question hurt (though I should note that the pain was 100% relegated to my ego). Because it meant that I hadn’t successfully fixed myself with willpower, determination, mindset work, and American individualism. I hadn’t overcome my problem.
“Would you try to wean yourself off of your asthma medication? Or stop wearing your glasses?” Tim asked me, very reasonably. And my answer was no, because being able to breathe and see things is important to me, and because I know that my eyes aren’t just suddenly going to “get better” on their own. In fact, as I age, I hear they’ll get worse. (My optometrist recently told me that my next pair of glasses will be bifocals, which I am not prepared to think about yet.)
But it felt different for some reason, when it came to a mental health issue. Because despite its very medical basis — I have an actual brain chemistry imbalance — it still felt like something I “should” be able to overcome… if only I was strong enough, or determined enough, or empowered enough, or enough in general.
This is, of course, the uglier side of positive thinking — an aspect of the “toxic” in “toxic positivity.” Anyone who tells you that you can achieve perfection is either lying to you or selling something.
I grew up in the Lutheran church, and one of my favorite parts of the liturgy was when we admitted that we weren’t perfect, and were forgiven for falling short of being our ideal selves. It made me feel better, relieved in a way — not only to receive that forgiveness, but to remember that no one around me reciting those words was perfect, either… and they were willing to admit it. Which takes a lot of strength.
There’s a balance, I think, that has been forgotten — or at least that I’ve forgotten. Amidst all the striving for self-improvement, it’s easy to overlook the good things we do. The progress we make. And accept that we’re not moving toward “perfect” — we’re moving toward true.
There will always be something to “fix” — our consistency, discipline, focus, self-worth, responsibility, physical condition, etc. — but instead of racing to patch over these holes and pretend they never existed, I think it’s okay to admit that they’re there, and to be the best people we can be in spite of them.
Because with a lot of things, there is no getting to “fixed”. And it’s not because we’re not trying hard enough, or that we’re massive failures. All the willpower in the world is not going to fix my eyesight or cure my depression. It can help with certain things, but that’s all it is — a tool. Just like my glasses and my medication (which I am back to taking as prescribed).
Deep in the foundational crevices of my brain lurks what’s often referred to as the serenity or sobriety prayer. If you’re not familiar:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Wisdom is as essential as it is elusive — and surprisingly absent from those “Top 10 Ways to ___” articles. Perhaps that’s because we can’t buy it — it’s hard to monetize a lifelong journey chock-full of painful lessons and ambiguity — and no one else can profit from it. No one but ourselves.
I am going to keep writing this newsletter, and I am going to continue producing episodes of Write Now (and Girl In Space). They might not come out as consistently as I would like them to, but instead of hating myself for it, I am going to continue to do the best I can, and try to forgive and accept myself when I fall short of my (or others’) expectations.
Because we’re not perfect. We never will be. Just do the best you can. Hold on and let go. I know, it’s a paradox. But then again, so are most things in life.
Words & warmth,
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