Are Your Flaws Really Your Strengths?

grandmother's report card
Image by victoriabernal via Flickr

I grew up thinking that I wasn’t quite as good as other people.  I was shy, not as smart as my older brother (who was, in his words, “brilliant!”), and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd in High School.  Finally, after muddling through college, I found a place in the work world where my organizational skills and ability to learn quickly helped me find success.

My corporate career served me well in many ways – I was able to support myself and my daughter, buy a house, and enjoy a bit of the American Dream.  But I never felt really connected to my work.  Sure I had triumphs, times of growth and recognition, but many of my personal qualities – my sensitivity, imagination and soft-heartedness were, for the most part, liabilities in that environment.

But once I’d moved on to the post-corporate world I found that the traits that had made my life difficult in the business arena became assets in my new role as a life coach.   Actually, they were more than assets, they were necessary for success.

The lesson here, I think, is that those parts of us that we wish we could change, those  “flaws” that show up on our report cards or reviews, are really only our flaws as defined by our current environment.  On the flip side of those “flaws” we often find our greatest strengths.  I struggle with public speaking but love writing.  I have a friend who is considered brash by some, but to those she protects she’s a hero.  I have another friend who believes in the goodness of everyone and would probably be chewed up in a big company, but she’s a leader and a glowing success at the school where she teaches Special Education.

When we wish we were different, we hold back what we have to offer the world, and when we do that we end up a pale imitation of the person we were meant to be.  Every personal quality we have, every quirk, is a gift.  And those quirks, those differences, they’re what make us unique, and in our uniqueness is our beauty.

Converstation Made Easy

Yeah, an extrovert would have a good chuckle at the title of this post – what’s hard about conversations?  But most introverts have struggled through the leaden “thunk” of a conversation dropping into uncomfortable silence.

My favorite is when I find myself in casual conversation with another introvert  – that pause as we both realize that the other is an introvert and neither of us is going to pick up the reins of the conversation.

But conversations don’t have to be difficult.  The trick is to let them happen naturally.  Here’s how:

#1  Relax
Most of the time casual conversations aren’t important.  You don’t have to make the other person like you, you don’t have to be amazingly witty or charming.  You just have to talk a little. That’s all.

#2  Focus on being interested rather than being interesting
No this isn’t another version of “get him to talk about himself.”  It’s just it’s more fun when we shift focus from “Oh no, I have to say something” to “Hmmm…look at that job title on his name tag.”  Putting our attention on the other person often opens the door to a world of topics.

#3  Broaden your focus
What’s going on around you? Our surroundings always offer a topic of conversation.  At a cocktail party? Talk about how you know the hosts.  At a conference?  Talk about the workshop you attend or ask for recommendations on booths to visit. This is especially useful if you find you don’t have much in common with your conversational partner.

#4  Choose to say nothing
If you don’t have anything to say, or don’t feel like talking, don’t force yourself into conversations. It’s perfectly fine to sit and observe the activity or excuse yourself and move on.   We sometimes think that if it’s uncomfortable we have to force our way through it, but, unless it’s important that we hang in there, its ok to just let it go.

What’s most important is that we stick with what’s most comfortable.  Rather than trying to copy the conversational style of an extrovert, we need to figure out what feels most natural for us.

Finally, remember this simple rule – you are always your most charming when you are being yourself.