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Pushing Past Fear

Pushing Past Fear by Flaunting Your Weaknesses

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“We are led to truth by our weaknesses as well as our strengths.”

Parker Palmer,
Let Your Life Speak

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The traditional approach to personal development tells you to focus on fixing your weaknesses.  Well, the traditional approach is wrong.  What I have found is that even if you rigorously apply all of your energies to improving your areas of weakness, the best that you can hope for is to become hopelessly mediocre.

You won’t succeed by addressing your weaknesses.  Success comes in pushing past fear and confronting the lies and misconception about your weaknesses.

Success comes from flaunting your weaknesses and placing yourself in situations where you will thrive in your apparent flaws.

Of course we’ve all heard well-meaning critiques of our flaws.  Over the course of my career, I have heard some of these knocks on my working style:

  • You’re too introspective.  You need to be more expressive.
  • You’re too quiet.  You need to share more.
  • You’re too independent.  You won’t get on board with the “vision.”
  • You’re too focused on broken things.  You need to be more innovative.

I tried to address these “weaknesses” for years.  As I worked hard to do better in these areas, three things happened.

  • I became only moderately successful in these areas.
  • I starved my innate strengths.
  • I felt like I was suffocating in this lie about improving myself.

Self improvement is the path to losing your unique soul.  You can count on it.  Instead, I had to risk highlighting my weaknesses, and allow them to be seen for what they are – the strengths that make me singularly effective.

The core to the lie of self-improvement is first the assumption that you are flawed.

The implication that you are incorrectly designed undermines the very purposes that you are created for, and results in impeding your unique assignment in the world.  Jesus challenged the lie this way:

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk.”

Matthew 10:29-31   The Message

The truth is counter-intuitive.  The key to is to exaggerate your weaknesses, not cut them off.

  • Too introspective? I got even more introspective.  I embraced my contemplative nature and now serve as a spiritual director.  Not surprisingly, a lot of my work revolves around people who are searching to recover and express their God-given identity.
  • Too quiet? I became more quiet.  I am comfortable with silence and continue to cultivate it.  Silence allows me to listen, to discern, and to help people recognize their spiritual journey.  It allows me to untangle and guide them through confusion and apprehension and be grounded and empowered in the divine, present moment.  I accept, assure and affirm people as a beloved children of God.
  • Too independent? I became even more independent from the “vision” of other people, and more dependent on God’s unique vision for my life.  This lead to walking away from the mega-church world and moving to a different sphere of pastoral work.   I am a natural and intuitive leader, but bad experiences with other “leaders”  found me adopting more of a follower approach.  Now, as a spiritual director, speaker and consultant I lead people and groups without an overriding agenda.
  • Too focused on broken things? I am now even more committed to brokenness.  I’ve committed my life to broken people.  And it came by first entering into intense work to get at the core of my own brokenness.  The Strengths Finder profile regarded my highest strength as Restorative.  I probe into broken situations, find the causes, and help to restore.  Even when I was working in retail, my reputation was not opening new stores, it was for entering under performing stores and turning them around.  I never did this through process.  It was always achieved by working with the people, finding their strengths, and then releasing them to work the processes and turn things around.

Here are some resources that have helped me understand this dynamic:  Marcus Buckingham has done great work in these areas for years, and Dave Rendall’s book The Freak Factor was a discovery tool for me.  If your soul is even slightly malleable, Parker Palmer will speak to it.

So how about you?  What is one your supposed weaknesses?  Instead of apologizing for it, how could you flaunt it?  How are you able to put this weakness/strength to work?

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About Bill Todd

Bill Todd is a spiritual director and speaker living in Franklin TN. He is patiently loved by Jody Todd, and their children Kaleigh, Hannah, and Liam.

Discussion

19 thoughts on “Pushing Past Fear by Flaunting Your Weaknesses

  1. Not structured – keep surrounding myself with demands that require flexibility and let others worry about the structures they desire, it’s not mine.

    Contrary – speak my opinion, but understand I do not have to voice the contradictions I see easily, let them fall apart and not fix them, bummer people fix your own mess, I can help but not owning the problem…this is called waiting

    Posted by Tina b | April 8, 2011, 12:51 pm
  2. Great work Bill… I’m loving this series!

    Posted by Jim Drake | April 8, 2011, 1:28 pm
  3. Bill ~
    I work part-time at Denver Seminary (of which I am also a graduate from the Counseling program 3 years ago), which hosted Rob Bell this morning in an interactive discussion with one of our profs about his latest book. Controversial, of course, but I kept thinking, “this is less about ‘controversy’ per se and more about that stage of faith (Fowler’s Stage 5 if anyone cares 🙂 in which we develop the ability to hold seemingly opposing ideas in tension.” Thinking Hebrew, so to speak (working on that topic for a blog post someday, actually).
    In that spirit, I’m processing through embracing my unique divine design which is, of course, unevenly weighted and different from anyone else’s, as well as paying attention to those ‘weaknesses’ that are actually character flaws that need not improving or exaggerating, but to be matured. I’m not arguing with your use of the word weakness, but I do think that culturally, we can use it to describe both design as well as ineffective cracks in the structure. Thanks for making me think. Some more 🙂

    Posted by Kerri Williams | April 8, 2011, 4:11 pm
  4. Kerri, thanks for joining the discussion.

    The simple contrast of strength to weakness is the easiest way to make the point. I do agree that design is another important grid to think through.

    Dave Rendall has a good section in his Freak Factor book looking at how our features, that we refer to as strengths and weaknesses, cannot be separated. They come in pairs,and the positive and negative elements are inextricably linked.

    Posted by Bill Todd | April 8, 2011, 4:28 pm
  5. You asked.
    Here goes.
    I live in my mind.
    In my very, very busy mind I’m dreaming, making lists, making plans, making wishes, traveling to Swaziland to drum with old native drummers, mapping out my route through Kroger, writing stories about the beautiful soul with no teeth at the check-out, structuring sentences and titling chapters, speaking to groups of 1000s who are moved to tears and then move forward more purposefully, signing my books at quaint bookstores in Prague and Portland and exchanging illuminations with adoring fans who I also adore and hoping I’ve got clean socks in my drawer. In my mind I live in a high rise apartment in Manhattan (or a little cabin in the woods) where publishers call often to offer an advance on my next book. In my mind I know what love is and really and truly rely on God and put my life and all my regrets and all my shame and missed callings and varicose veins and extra pounds into the arms of Jesus. In my mind I have a personal driver and I eat chocolate like crazy and never gain an ounce and I picture myself crying at my daughter’s graduation, wishing I had those precious moments to live again and I do Yoga and stop to watch Bluebirds and I’m a thin, confident, self-assured woman who doesn’t live in her mind but makes things happen.

    I just can’t get my mind wrapped around this weakness as a strength. But I’ve always said, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Pray tell, spiritual elder, how?

    Posted by Amy Harkness | April 8, 2011, 4:56 pm
    • I can only answer the how question from my own experience.

      For me, the how looked more like my first jump off of the high diving board as a kid. At a certain point, I just had to go ahead and jump.

      The problem was not that I didn’t know that steps that I needed to take to move fully into my strengths (weaknesses.) The problem was (and still is) fear.

      The jump is not a one time jump. I jump every day.

      The greatest help in taking the jump is intentionally surrounding yourself with people who are on your side, who believe in you, and want to see the best from you. Listen to them, to the voice of God inside of you, and shut out the chorus of other voices.

      Jump.

      Posted by Bill Todd | April 10, 2011, 7:21 am
  6. Hey Bill. You rock even more than I remember… excellent and equally terrifying piece…Flaunting my weakness…I haven’t ever thought of that… I have been too busy hiding my weaknesses and the shame that comes with them. It feels almost like freedom to allow them, let alone flaunt them….I guess the first step is to face them instead of run from them…. I think I will start there… thanks for the challenge. miss you!

    Posted by Denise Gray | April 8, 2011, 9:04 pm
  7. i’ve been told that I have these two weaknesses again and again.

    1) I talk too much. I’ve never seen this as a weakness, I just enjoy interacting with people. Additionally, I am a verbal processor. I need to talk to “get it out of my head” – I do tend to think out loud, to wonder out loud, etc. I don’t mind when others talk – I enjoy the conversation. But it has gotten on some people’s nerves and they have not been shy about expressing that. (many times these people are ones I’ve felt held very one sided conversations themselves!) And because of my second weakness, it makes me super aware of everything I say, I feel very self conscious and these voices of criticism in my head now cause me to shut down and even withdraw. I have to feel comfortable to be myself!

    2) I am too sensitive. And yes, this really bothers me at times. Generally though, this is something I see the strength of more than others are able to. I know that I am not just personally sensitive but I am also sensitive to the needs and moods of others, I am sensitive to the Spirit, I am sensitive and intuitive in that I can gather information without having hard facts. Sometimes I just know stuff – that something is wrong for instance. Others seem to see it only as I get my feelings hurt easily. Which I do. I take things very much to heart. I take criticism very seriously. I think about things deeply. Even though I talk alot, I do tend to be very introspective about life. And I notice insensitive words and actions of others very quickly – whether they are aimed at me or someone else. But I am now sensitive about being too sensitive so I don’t talk about what bothers me very much. (like being ragged about talking too much for instance!)

    3. Okay, I thought of a third one. I mentioned this one to you the other day. I am rarely satisfied with the status quo. I am always questioning it and dreaming of bigger things or challenging the how and why. This annoys people as well because – as my mother once said – they wonder “why I can’t ever just be happy with the way things are?”. And the answer is “I don’t know”. I am very creative and I think that is part of it. I tend to think outside the box and don’t accept others limitations or traditions. I think this makes people tired – or even angry – at times because they feel stretched.

    On strengthsfinder my top ones were 1) Connectedness 2) Arranger 3) Achiever 4) Belief and 5) Empathy

    I’d really like to know that my weaknesses could be “strengths” in some ways.

    Posted by jan owen | April 9, 2011, 9:19 am
    • Here’s what I think I heard you say:

      I have elements of my life that I don’t see as weaknesses.

      Other people have labeled them as weakness.

      I agreed with them instead of my own heart.

      I don’t like where that agreement has taken the direction of my life.

      Who gets to make the final calls about your life?

      Good things are erupting out of your soul. I can’t wait to see how it looks when fully formed.

      Pax.

      Posted by Bill Todd | April 10, 2011, 7:28 am
    • Dear jan, I am your long lost twin. My kids now say mom is thinking outside the taco again when I say why? I labeled this as contrary as I just look at those boundaries and rules and think, hmmmm thanks for the suggestion, but it could be done.this way.
      Sensitive, oh hell yes and trust that more than anything because it’s got me out
      of bad situations. When I’ve ignored that sensitivity, I get deeply hurt.
      Your twin.

      Posted by Tina b | April 10, 2011, 7:33 am
      • Thank you Tina. I agree that when I ignore my intuition or whatever I always get in trouble. My gut is almost always right. This makes our decisions very difficult to explain, you know?!

        Posted by jan owen | April 10, 2011, 7:13 pm
  8. I was just thinking about this very thing (weakness) this morning and wanting to give up because there’s no getting ahead. Thanks for the new thoughts, Bill. Tell Jody hello!

    Posted by Teri Walden | April 9, 2011, 11:36 am
  9. You surprised me. I thought you were gonna say, “Just keep saying (and writing) what’s on your mind. Let your mind chatter expressed be your strength.” But you went further–all the way off the diving board. And I’m scared of heights! So now I’m gearing up snorkeling gear and flippers and the life preserving people who believe in me.
    Thank ye kindly.

    Posted by Amy Harkness | April 10, 2011, 4:13 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Seven Minutes to Success by Flaunting Weaknesses. « The Red Backpack - April 14, 2011

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