Is it worth building on your weaknesses? Or is it best to focus on your strengths so your weaknesses are irrelevant? This is a tough question that often doesn’t lead us to a definite answer. Caroline Akamune, a second year Chemistry student, searches out for answers with the help of Ninna Makrinov, from the University of Warwick’s Student Development team.
What if you Google it?
After planning out my next steps in life I decided it’s about time I homed in on my weaknesses. I believe weaknesses can hinder our ability to be independent and should hence be worked on frequently. So, I thought, how do I improve them? I turned to Google for help.
A simple search for ‘Building on your weaknesses’ was quite confusing as all the advice seemed to focus on avoiding or forgetting about weaknesses and just focusing on your strengths. Surely it’s good to be great in many areas, after all that would make me be a step ahead of the competition. I wondered, what would a successful person do? That is when I reached out to Ninna.
Strengths and weaknesses
Ninna proposed that there are different ways to approach personal development and that the confusion arises when points of view from different approaches are mixed up. She pointed out two out of several ideas which are common in Student Careers and Skills: Competencies and Strengths.
Traditionally, it’s thought that to perform well one would need to build upon skills and work to overcome weaknesses. Most companies have an idea of the characteristics a person should have to perform a job well. A similar approach is taken in education using a curriculum, advising a set of skills everyone must have. This approach is also delivered by the Student Development team. In this model, strengths are things people do well and weaknesses are those people don’t do well.
This approach, based on positive psychology, proposes that strengths are things people do well and that energise them. The strengths model distinguishes between realised strengths (strengths people use), unrealised strengths (strengths people don’t use), learned behaviours (things people do well but would not energise them) and weaknesses (things people cannot do well and would not energise them). The idea is that strengths can be used to ‘make up’ for weaknesses.
Ninna and I think that it might be worth building some weaknesses, but not all. We thought, as an example, that both of us are unable to speak Japanese. This is a weakness, but does this issue matter? If no, that is OK. If it mattered we could always learn Japanese. But there are also other ways to achieve the same objective of communicating with someone in Japanese, like using an interpreter.
We also think that building weaknesses requires a lot of work looped in while we are learning, and this might not be enjoyable. But we believe we can get good at most things with proper practice. We put emphasis on most because, according to the action planning workshop hosted by Student Development and the SMART objectives model), although something is achievable, it may not be a realistic goal based on our circumstances. For example, imagine a 30-year-old wanting to start training to be the best sprinter in the world. Sprinters of such calibre have been practicing since a very young age, so the person would have to put an incredibly large effort.
We both reflected on our experiences presenting in front of others. I realised that I needed to polish my presentation skills and with practice am now comfortable doing it. Ninna shared how she hated presentations at university: she was once paralysed during a presentation in front of her class, but now she loves presenting and teaching.
Will I work on my weaknesses?
It’s good to practice self-awareness by acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. Imagine, what kind of person do you want to be in the future? Think of 3 weaknesses that you have that could hinder you from being that person. Think, for each weakness, would you like to develop it? Would spending time and energy building on this weakness help achieve your goals?
If yes, see if there are any specific graduate skills workshops at Warwick that relate to that skill. If there are weaknesses you’d rather not take the time to develop, what steps would you take to use your strengths to balance this out?