Feeling kind of meditative on an Easter Sunday - and reckon my thoughts today will reflect that. This comes off the back of writing a fair bit about how we treat others when they falter (with kindness, not calling them nasty names) and what to do when we falter under pressure.
I want to double down on the idea of weakness today and bring it back into vogue if it ever was. Then again, probably not. The dictionary does not give weakness a good rap. The Oxford Dictionary supplies these lovely synonyms: a disadvantage, fault, flaw, defect, or deficiency. Ouch! Social scientist Brene Brown, whose research focuses on shame (that ick feeling that so often attaches itself to weakness) has found some interesting gender differences in this space. Women report their worst shame comes in the form of conflicting, unobtainable expectations of who they are supposed to be. For men?
Do not, at any cost, appear weak.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. When perceived weakness is a source of one’s greatest shame, no wonder we run from it like the plague.
Nevertheless, it's time to stop running from and turn to face, with flashlight in hand, our weaknesses. Even if only to reclaim the time and effort we spend armoring up against them. As if weakness is the enemy. Spoiler alert: it is not. Weaknesses simply exist. It is all too often our painful, shameful relationship with them that is our actual adversary. Facing our failings or failures is never fun or enjoyable. But it’s in the walling ourselves off from weakness where problems happen. The resistance: this is the worst possible thing ever. The shame: I can’t let anyone see that this is a problem for me. Or as shame experts succinctly capture our greatest fear: This shameful weakness makes me unlovable.
We can become so defended, we get stuck. Meditation teacher Jeff Warren uses the metaphor of a clenched fist to represent how we are when we are overly defended. So much so that we seize up and are unable to loosen, give ourselves ease, or respond more easily to what’s right in front of us.
What are some better ways to view and deal with our weaknesses?
1. Know that it’s part of our human condition. We differ from machines or robots in that regard, and aren’t we glad we do. We all have them, and chances are, there are millions of humans past and future who share our exact same weaknesses. Because the concept of weakness is so, well, icky, we don’t talk about them much, so we don’t get to learn that lesson.
2. Sharing our weaknesses can reduce their power over us. In fact, it is here that the ability to be open and vulnerable can become a superpower. When we are willing to share our weaknesses in a way that’s open and self-aware, we invite the perspectives of others whose insights can help us make better sense of our own weaknesses. This kind of sharing also empowers others to feel safe enough to do the same. Again quoting Brene Brown who says the three conditions that allow the virus of weakness to fester are secrecy, silence, and judgment. The antidote? Empathy. There is no quicker way to start healing from the wound of unacknowledged weakness than by sharing it with others who care, commiserate, and even help reinterpret.
3. Weakness teaches us, if we let it. About ourselves, and how to be humble.
This goes back to point #1. If we flinch away from our weaknesses, we miss out on what they can teach us. Sometimes a perceived weakness is but a close cousin to a different way of thinking or doing. Case in point. I wrote a book called, When Grit is Not Enough, which talks about what you can do when your nose-to-the-grindstone efforts are no longer paying off. The not-so-subtle irony is that I am a chronic, hard-nosed over-gritter myself. Writing this blog on Easter is an example of me doing what needs doing, public holidays be damned. I saw this flaw in myself to be downright embarrassing, if not shameful. How was I to proclaim to be some sort of “smarter effort guru” if I never backed down?
It was only after someone smarter than me pointed out that it is only in the deep knowing of the motivations of gritters everywhere—and in myself—that I can speak with empathy to those who struggle to stop themselves overgritting. It’s like when the police bring in a former computer hacker to help them see the weaknesses in their own systems. I’ll hack your grit for ya!
4. Not every weakness has to become a strength. Self-aware leaders learn that some weaknesses aren’t worth fixing and to compensate for them instead. Not by denial, but by “getting just good enough not to suck,” or hiring people who complement their strengths and offset their weaknesses.
If any of this sounds like you, and you want help to reinvent your relationship to weakness—for yourself or those you lead and love, let me know. I can help.
Get in touch here.
P.S. My book has been published!
When Grit is not Enough is about what you can do when your usual "go hard" mantra is no longer working. As the tagline says, this is a book about how to rework your mindset and purpose for easier effort in hard times.
Grab your copy here!
P.P.S. In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on achieving the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at email@example.com.