3 Ways to Magnify Your Strengths into Actual Advantages

Sean Kernan

Woman showing empathy and playing with rabbit.Editorial Rights Purchased via iStock Photos

A hare doesn’t concern itself with its sloppy swimming or inability to ascend trees. It doesn’t wish it could soar like the eagle that eyes it from above.

The hare cares only for the fleetness of its feet and keenness of its ears. Were there a school, with classes in tree climbing and flying, they would be fairly useless to this hare. Any desire to ace them would be destined for failure.

One can’t help but wonder if the mighty human could take a lesson from the simple hare. After all, the workforce usually doesn’t reward generalists. It looks for highly specific skills and strengths. So how can you magnify your talents?

The secret to competency isn’t always you

Paul Erdos remains one of the most revered mathematicians in history. His name sits right alongside Newton in the golden halls of academia. Erdos was eccentric, foregoing wealth and riches, living out of one suitcase. He often worked 18 hour days, focusing on new theorems and pushing the boundaries of research.

He often arrived at various universities, knocking on the doors of local math professors' homes in the wee hours. Erdos knocking on your door was not an event any reasonable mathematician snoozed through. Years later, an interesting phenomenon emerged from the large social network that Erdos built. It is called “The Paul Erdos Number”. Through math communities, it was a game of how many degrees of separation you were from Erdos. What is most interesting: you can trace math competency to how many degrees removed someone is from Erdos. If you are one degree, with him being your teacher, you are assuredly brilliant. If you are two degrees,

Matthias Schlitte and no, this has not been photoshopped(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

with your math teacher studying under him, you are still likely very smart. You can see how competency radiates outward like an earthquake.

The lesson is very simple: surround yourself with fantastically competent people in that one skill you are strong in. The old adage that you are the average of the five people you spend time with has significance.

Where your flaws become strengths

Matthias Schlitte was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes his arms to be uneven. His left arm is thin and wiry, matching the rest of his frame. His right arm is normal until you see his forearm. It is multiples the diameter of his left forearm. In fact, his right forearm weighs more than his entire left arm. The disproportion impacts his ability to run and keep his balance. His agility is terrible.

But his freak forearm became a huge advantage in arm wrestling. His forearm thickness is not a fatty tumor. It is fully and ridiculously muscled. And, with this advantage, he became a dominant arm wrestling champion. Competitors stared in horror as their 170 lb division opponent was wielding 30 lbs of the forearm.

So play to your strengths, even when they seem like weaknesses. For example, if you have ADHD, as I do, there are certain careers you are more likely to excel in. People with ADHD get bored easily and daydream often. They often do well in creative professions. They even do well as ER doctors where their priorities are constantly shifting. Meanwhile, they might struggle as programmers where concentration over long periods is useful.

Conversely, one tech company aggressively hires autistic programmers, seeing their ability to fixate as a tremendous advantage. Autistics would generally never be in a customer-facing role, yet they excel in ways account executives rarely do.

Begin looking at your disadvantages through the lens of an advantage. Sit down and itemize various careers and situations where you’ll suddenly appreciate that flaw.

Strengths and weaknesses aren’t mutually exclusive

Schools tend to put us in buckets regarding our talent. It is well-intended but also damaging.

This is where standardized tests are the worst. My SAT had a lasting impact on my life. I did much better in Math than English so my entire career was steered in one direction. I spent a bunch of years doing things I was good at — but hated.

Here I am 20 years later, writing for a living and loving it. And what’s interesting is that those seemingly unrelated math skills became helpful in my writing. No, I don’t have a thick vocabulary or well of literary knowledge that an English major might. But my analytic strengths have helped me consider ideas from lots of angles and bring unique approaches to articles. It’s helped with creativity.

Meanwhile, my best friend was an English major who hated math and today he is an all-star software engineer. His pedantic eye for language became a distinct advantage in assembling code.

The point: look at something you love regardless of what your strengths are. Then, try looking at that passion through your strengths even if they seem unrelated. Therein lies the DNA of unique competencies. In a market where people are valued by how replaceable they are, you might find yourself quite valuable.

Your passion is the link between all of these ideas. Passion will fuel the curiosity and persistence you need to become truly awesome at the thing you love.

Recap for memory: three ways to magnify your strengths

  1. Surround yourself with people who are even stronger in your strength. Spend lots of time around them. Learn to enjoy their company and thought process.
  2. Rather than “fix” your weakness, consider environments where that weakness would thrive. Find the appropriate sport for your “single popeye forearm”.
  3. Look at your interests through the lens of your strengths. Identify what unique competency it could generate in that seemingly unrelated field.

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