It is normal to talk about our weaknesses. We still live the mythology that the royal road to any kind of improvement is paved by knowing and eliminating our weaknesses.
We position them front and center in hiring interviews, performance coaching and reviews and water cooler gossip. We even take them home and make them figural in our believed strategies for improving our marriages and children. We shape our personal assessments and improvements on waging war against our weaknesses.
Any intelligent conversation on weaknesses needs to begin with a brief taxonomy. What we call weaknesses can fall into any of several categories of abilities.
- Things other people do better than us
- Things we haven't yet started learning how to do
- Things we do well, but not on time
Common to all three is that a weakness is something about us that disappoints others or ourselves.
Whether we know our weaknesses or not, they are all abilities. To say someone has a weakness of being late, being late is one of their abilities. It is something they know how to do. It's likely they will know how to be late for the rest of their lives. Even when they show up on time, which they do, they still have the ability to be late. The idea that we can get rid of a weakness is unrealistic.
Even if they develop new habits of being on time, they still have the ability to be late. No new habit has the ability to create weakness amnesia. New habits don't get rid of weaknesses. They remain options at any point in time that we don't choose or choose less often because we have available the alternatives of new habits.
New habits make weaknesses more irrelevant. Until we grow new habits, we are stuck with weaknesses no matter how many threats or incentives exist for us to extinguish our weaknesses. New habits make weaknesses non-factors in how we show up.
When people invite or bully us into conversations about anyone's weaknesses, we need to introduce the new question about what kinds of habits we want to learn and support together. The good news on habit growing is that in most cases, we already have abilities we can engage and combine to develop new habits one step at a time.