Make your weakness your greatest strength

After Steve Jobs died, I, like half of the rest of the world, devoured his book. It was fascinating to read how such a jerk of a guy could come up with such brilliant ideas! It was even more interesting to read how a large proportion of the people he treated so rudely thanked him afterward because he stimulated them ‘to go further than they would themselves have thought possible’. The question is: can you be a pioneer and still be liked? Or in other words: if Steve had been more compliant socially, would he have been equally successful? Or was his social ‘weakness’ secretly his greatest strength?

Cartoon door Gudjohnsson

My experience has taught me that a negative characteristic can suddenly be a major benefit in another context. For example, when I started working as a young freelancer at large consultancies, I was often told that people found me ‘pushy’. Too enthusiastic, too present, too overly focused on results. Years later I used the same characteristic to set up a big charity collection; that earned me the nickname ‘go-getter’! For me, it was a real eye-opener that getting criticized for something doesn’t mean you have to change.

Make your weakness your greatest strength

It often just means that another context will do you more justice.

Here’s another example: at the start of that same Coins for Care charity collection campaign, when I was trying to convince large retail chains to place collection boxes in their shops for the redundant coins at the time of the Euro introduction, nobody took me seriously. The sponsors thought I was too young, inexperienced, and naive. Months later I was invited to a TV show to talk about the Coins for Care story. There, my ‘young’ image was to my benefit: the TV people said I presented a really low threshold – like the ‘girl next door’ so that the public had no problem putting themselves in my shoes. There were more TV appearances after which all the major shop chains and other sponsors were suddenly desperate to join in…

Take a look at the following list of the two extremes of the same characteristic and see whether you recognize yourself in any of them.
Could those areas for which you are sometimes criticized be really positive in other situations?

Make your weakness your greatest strength

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job at Nashville TV? She would continually burst into tears because she got so involved in the suffering of those she was interviewing for her reports. Apparently, she was also too emotional to be a newsreader and was called in to see her supervisors all the time. In the end, she turned out to be perfect for a local talk show. Her emotional approach to her subjects drew the attention of famous TV channel ABC and so Oprah became the most famous talk show host in the world because she is so empathetic with respect to her guests!

Very few people know that Beethoven became deaf at a very young age – not great for writing music you’d think. Yet despite his deafness, or perhaps because of it, he managed to write the most incredible symphonies. During the performance of his ninth symphony, someone had to turn him round to show him the public’s delirious reaction.

Bulgarian Valentina Hasan sings a song in English for Music Idols even though she’s not a great singer and can’t speak English. That takes courage. Valentina’s rendition of the chorus of Mariah Carey’s Can’t live sounds like Ken Lee. Yet Valentina keeps going because the sounds she has learned by heart phonetically are real English – certainly to her. Despite this ‘handicap’, or perhaps because of it, the Bulgarian singer is now famous. On the internet, it’s even the rage to try and sing like ‘Valentina Hasan or Ken Lee!’ There are some hilarious clips on YouTube.

The most important message in all of this is: have the guts to be yourself. If others have problems with one of your characteristics, you can try and change or suppress it. You could also change your (working)environment and find a context in which that characteristic benefits you. After all, be honest, if Steve Jobs hadn’t been such an irritating know-it-all, would we be having this much fun with our computers, phones, tablets, music, and films?

‘Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.’

Want to learn how to turn your biggest weakness into your greatest strength?

Check out my online workshop ‘How to turn anything into a business.’ Often our greatest added value lies in a characteristic that we don’t recognize, which we can then use to help others and maybe even start a business. How nice would it be if you could make a living with your passion?

How it all began