Why You Shouldn’t Work on Your Weaknesses


True or false: “You will learn and grow the most in the areas in which you are weakest.” If you consider that true, unfortunately you believe a common misconception. According to author and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham, people grow most in the areas they already know and love. Magazine columnist Marilyn vos Savant (famous for having the highest IQ in the Guinness Book of World Records) shares Buckingham’s convictions with this thought: “Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.”

You may be thinking, “Sure, everyone knows that.” Really? According to Buckingham, a Gallup poll asked parents this question, “If your child’s report card was: English: A, Social Studies: A, Biology: C and Algebra: F, which grade would deserve the most attention from you?” 77% of these parents said they would focus their attention on the F. Granted, the F should not be ignored, but these parents overwhelmingly agreed that they should devote the largest portion of their time on their child’s weakest – not strongest – area.

Disproving Conventional Thought

Conventional thought seems to be that we should strive toward becoming more well-rounded by working on our weaknesses, but highly successful people disprove conventional logic every day. What if Einstein had focused on history, language and geography (his weaknesses) instead of math and science? Aren’t you glad that Beethoven (who was known for his fits of temper) did not allow anger management to preempt his musical pursuits? You get the idea. Michael Jordan would never have become an elite basketball player if he had set his sights on becoming a banker or an investment broker. And what if Bill Gates had devoted his energies to graduating from Harvard instead of developing computer software?

How About You?

You might not be another Einstein or Michael Jordan, but you do have strengths and weaknesses. Your natural inclinations make some pursuits fun and easy while others are tedious and exhausting. It seems obvious that we should work at the fun and easy challenges, but we are all too often plagued with guilt when we ignore the things we hate. Today, I challenge you to feel liberated from that guilt. No matter how hard you work at your weaknesses, you will never rise to more than average ability, but when you pour your energy into something you love, you could become world class at that endeavor.

Discovering Your Strengths

Not sure what your strengths are? Give yourself this three-part quiz:

  1. Write down a list of things that come easy for you. One thing that comes easily to me is math. As a child, I would buy books of riddles because I loved trying to solve them. Therefore, math problems (especially the word problems) became my new love when I took math courses in school. Studying engineering, for me, was a form of laziness because it was what came easiest for me.
  2. List all activities where time seems to fly by. What do you get so focused on that you lose track of time . . . when several hours disappear without you realizing it? This activity is a clue to your natural talent. Me? I can easily lose track of time while writing.
  3. Write down the things you do which make you happy. I am probably happiest when I am helping others learn something important. For example, I have been teaching Sunday School regularly for 35 years without ever once dreading it. I also love to help people reach their financial goals . . . a process which often requires considerable explanations.

When you compare the three lists, you will discover your areas of natural aptitude and greatest potential. For me, math, writing and teaching may seem diverse, but these three qualities are all key to my writing and financial coaching.

What about you? The activities in your life which come easy for you, make you happy, and cause time to fly by are the huge indicators of who you are and what makes you tick.

Why wouldn’t you want to pursue them?

Do you tend to develop your strengths or work on your weaknesses? Parents: Do you encourage your children to pursue their passions or work on their weaknesses?

  1. Emily

    That’s what frustrated me most about the educational system, and why I got out: it was all about forcing kids to try to improve in areas they obviously weren’t gifted in. It’s totally backwards – no self-loving, self-respecting adult spends all day trying to better at things they hate. Why do we do that to our kids in school?

    • Joe Plemon

      Emily — So sad and so true. I assume you got out of the public education system — have you found any private educational system which does things differently? Just curious.

  2. AB

    Great ideas, but what if I have a child who only loves to play video games, hates people, and only gains motivation when pizza is involved? We should help/guide that child to learn to improve their social skills and perhaps branch out their interests to more intelligent things than video games and stuffing their face. I don’t have a child like this, I’m just thinking of other children I know who have parents who do not encourage them to do anything they don’t like to do and they are creating lazy people. And what about some of us who have talents that clash with other immaturity in our lives. Such as, I have talent in music, I play several instruments and I sing and it’s always come naturally to me, but I absolutely hate doing anything in front of people. So, it doesn’t make sense. Why would God give me a natural talent but then another weakness that causes me not to be able to use that talent? I’ve always had a sense of guilt about this, exactly as this article is describing.

    • Joe Plemon

      AB — Great point about lazy children. Obviously, a responsible parent will not encourage laziness just because a child loves being so. As Kathy said in another comment, all of this needs to be balanced with self-discipline. Still, helping children find a positive niche can sometimes be a challenge. Our oldest son always hated school and hated reading, but he loved skateboards and music. So my wife and I bought him a subscription to a music magazine and guess what? He started reading, and, although not a rabid reader, he continues to read quite a bit today. He completed high school, never went to college and continues to love music today (he has played in bands since high school). He is also a husband and father who supports his family as he works at a factory job which he absolutely loves. We are very proud of him.

      About your music dilemma, I can understand how someone could love music without loving to perform in front of others. Maybe the Lord wants you to teach music to others. Or maybe it is simply something between you and God…like a personal time of praise and prayer through music. Anyway, don’t feel guilty for not performing if you hate doing so.

  3. Kathy

    I’ve home-educated my children for almost 20 years – When I began, I assumed that they would follow a ‘typical course of study’ and do higher math, history, literature etc into their final year. But, we have never actually done that – so far, they have dropped math once the basics are learnt, ( they know how to live within their means, though!), the ones that like science pursue that, the ones that like language pursue that, the ones that like to write keep on writing and so on.
    I’ve found that if I try to push them in an area which doesn’t hold their interest, they will end up disliking learning, but if allowed to ‘taste and see’, then they keep the DESIRE TO LEARN about something when the need arises – such as when they begin a new job, start a business or even plan a wedding.
    This all has to be balanced with self-descipline, though – none of us can escape from doing things we don’t enjoy very much.

    • Carol

      I whole-heartedly agree, Kathy. I am so thankful to be able to homeschool my children for just this reason.

    • Joe Plemon

      Kathy — Well done! I am guessing that when you instill that DESIRE TO LEARN in your kids, they will not only excel in the areas they love, but will tolerate (not hate) the areas they don’t love (such as math). And yes, your final sentence is so true: learning needs to be balanced with self-discipline.

  4. David Steffy

    I feel liberated already and I haven’t even applied the concept. What a perfect article speaking the things I always thought but never could find the authorities on it to prove my point…Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your articles. God bless you!

    • Grace

      David I agree with you! This society teaches that if you are not a clone of someone else then at times you are made to feel less than being force to do something do not give personal peace and satisfaction. I feel liberated as well!! God Bless!

    • Joe Plemon

      Thank you David. I love it when a reader feels liberated. A more spiritual aspect is this: When we are doing what God calls us to do (our strengths), we will be happy and productive. Anything else will be tedious and exhausting.

  5. China Newz

    Agree, people should focus more on their strengths in order to succeed professionally. People tend to like things they are good at, and not like things they are not good at. It takes time to develop self awareness about what you are good at and what you are bad. Along the way there can be some bumps and bruises and loss of self esteem.

    Unfortunately, the educational system is not like that. In countries like China, though, if they find you have a special talent, then you will likely be placed in an institution that caters to your strength. For example, in China they have Sports Universities, that are devoted to people with athletic talent.

    • Joe Plemon

      Evidently, public education in America can learn from China.

  6. Todd - Fearless Men

    I full-heartedly agree. For 8 years I managed in, then directed, a non-profit call center for Global Expeditions and Acquire the Fire. We had a lot of college-aged students talking to churches about coming to events or coming on mission trips. Some just weren’t the right fit. And it’s not a knock to them. To spend tons of energy growing in something your not sharp at, where you could be cultivating something you gravitate toward and are a little more innately apt to, is a really WISE investment of time!

    • Joe Plemon

      Todd — Well said. Jesus and Paul did little, if any, arm twisting. They weren’t offended when people didn’t accept their message; they simply went elsewhere to find some who would.

  7. Delores

    Wow, I just had an epiphany! After losing my job in 2010, I decided to go to college full-time to finish my accounting degree. I had been trying to find a way to go, part-time, even before the company closed down. Everyone always thought my desire to pursue accounting was a financial one, you know, just chasing the big money. Even I thought there might be some truth to that, but it wasn’t the whole picture. While reading this article, I just realized why I chose accounting. The things I enjoy doing, where I lose all track of time, is puzzles! Sudoku, word search, jigsaw, what’s different, can you find all the animals, where’s Waldo. I love them all! Now that I’m in my senior year and taking upper-level accounting courses, I’ve discovered what a puzzle accounting really is. How many tax savings can I find, how can I increase net income, if I increase advertising by this much, how much will that improve sales. It’s just a BIG PUZZLE! Oh hallelujah! I don’t have to feel guilty about my choice, I’m pursuing my favorite pasttime! Life is good.

  8. This has a great deal of merit. Conventional thinking would have you think that you work on your weaknesses in order to become a more well-rounded individual. However, that could be at the expense of not working to become better on your strongpoints. Thus, it’s plausible that working on your weaknesses might come at the expense of letting your strongpoints become dormant.

    Nice article!!