Don’t try to teach a pig to sing — it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
Do I have your attention? This may bring a smile to your face; however, the message is so much deeper. It goes to the core of some fundamental teachings and philosophies that were certainly prevalent when I was going to school, and I’m pretty sure things haven’t changed.
Throughout your life, you’ve found things at which you excelled. There’ve also been things you didn’t even come close to mastering. As a child maybe you were good at hopscotch or baseball. When you found something you were good at you played it often and loved it. The things you were less adept at you played less and enjoyed less.
In school, maybe you were good in math and not reading. Or perhaps your passion was in science and not French. For most of us and from our very earliest training the lesson was: “If you’re good at something, spend less time on it. After all, you can already do that. Instead, focus your attention and energy on where you need help – the things you don’t do well and don’t come easily to you. That way, you can be more well rounded and enjoy more of your life.”
Most often the lesson backfires: We’re less proficient in all things, mediocre in everything.
Focusing on a weakness in hopes of making you “better” ignores the reality that we just can’t be good at everything. Each of us has a natural talent that, if we accept and acknowledge it, can be made our greatest asset.
Consider the Chinese ping-pong Olympic team: Their formula for continued success and medals is to practice 8 hours each day perfecting their strength. The philosophy is that if you perfect your strengths and develop them to the maximum, they overwhelm your weaknesses. The Chinese champion player has a deadly forehand, and he practices only this stroke. He cannot play a backhand stroke. It doesn’t matter to his game – nobody can beat his forehand, and he continues to reign as champion. This is a perfect model for the power we have when we use our strengths.
The sad part is most people don’t even acknowledge their strengths. Most of us continue to work to minimize our weaknesses – struggling to get better at what we’re not good at naturally. Worse, we have a tendency to discount what comes easily to us – if it’s too easy it must not be valuable. If we’re not struggling, how can it be useful or valuable? This may be one of the greatest lies we tell ourselves, and it’s time to get past it.
Look at your life and what you’re doing. Are you using your talents? Are you doing things you don’t like or that you don’t do well? Are you living a life that allows you to enjoy your natural talents?
You have what you need to make changes that allow you to stop struggling and start living more effortlessly by using your strengths and letting them overwhelm your weaknesses. Start by making a list of all your strengths – even things that seem insignificant to you. These could be qualities your have (honest, happy, spiritual), things you do well (conversation, sing, needlework) or ways of being (supportive of others, helpful, people-oriented). Write them down. Next to each strength, identify what the benefit to you is when you acknowledge and use it. Then evaluate your life and see where you are honoring yourself – perhaps by denying your strength or working with a weakness instead. Identify what changes you can make to allow your natural talent to be part of your life.
The process requires total honesty from you. You don’t have to share what you’re doing with anybody. It’s really about you acknowledging yourself. As you continue the process of self-assessment, you’ll start tapping into your personal strengths more easily and more often. Instead of forcing yourself to do what you’re not good at, you’ll learn to find other ways – either through other people or new options – to get those things done.
Trust in yourself and the process. You’ll be stronger for yourself, your friends and family, and in your profession. Follow the lesson of the Chinese Olympic ping-pong team. They’re a model for what it means to soar with your strength. Having an easier life is possible. Decide to stop pursuing an impossible dream of wanting to be able to do it all.