Yes, I’m looking at you. Take a seat. Get comfortable. I know it hurts to hear, but you’re not perfect. Don’t worry. No one expects you to be.
We all have weaknesses because (surprise!) we’re human. Knowing them—and effectively addressing them—can be a powerful tool in the professional world. Pretending like they don’t exist, on the other hand, can have tragic consequences.
So today, I’m encouraging you to take a good, hard look at your weaknesses. Yes, that’s plural. More than one. Make a list my friends. Need help? Ask your co-workers for some brutal (but productive) honesty. They’ll have some thoughts, I’m sure.
Be honest with yourself, but not overly harsh. What gets you into trouble? What is a constant struggle for you? What holds you back? Go on. No one else is looking. The truth shall set you free.
Knowing Is Growing
The point of this exercise isn’t to make you feel bad about yourself. It’s actually quite empowering to take ownership of your imperfections. In the workplace, it’s also respected. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you’re just giving up. Recognizing your weakness is not the same as accepting this thing will always be your weakness. In fact, you can only improve once you know what needs to be improved. If you’re too afraid to look it in the eye, you’ll never be able to change it.
This is one of the big reasons prospective employers often ask you to identify your own weaknesses. Most interviewees freak out and try to find something that sounds like a weakness but really can be turned into a strength. That’s the oldest trick in the book and most employers see right through it. A far more compelling answer is an honest one that indicates a real weakness and the real steps you’re taking to grow and get better.
Seek Complementary Skills
Another benefit of understanding your weaknesses is that you can look for people who have what you don’t and get them on your team. Since no one is perfect, we all have gaps that need to be filled by others. A strong team has a diverse group of people whose skills are complementary. Where one person is weak, another soars. It’s funny how few professionals really understand this.
Ask any successful leader who surrounds himself with a great team, and he’ll probably be able to quickly pinpoint his own weaknesses and the specific people on the team who have what he doesn’t. By honestly assessing your weaknesses, you can more easily identify the team where you’ll fit best—the one that fills your gaps and the one where you fill the gaps of others.
When you can clearly state your weaknesses, without justifying them or making excuses, others know you’re real. They know you aren’t trying to fake anything. The worst answer to the question, “What’s your biggest weakness?” is “I can’t think of one.” That just shows that you’re either (a) in denial (b) too scared to admit reality (c) completely unaware of the fact that you’re human or (d) you really think you’re perfect…which is both sad and kind of terrifying.
So who do you want to be? Step up and let your weaknesses make you stronger.
Here’s a hard truth that some of you will hate to hear: If you don’t stand up for yourself and specifically ASK for what you want, need and deserve in the workplace, you probably won’t get it.
Most people (your managers, coworkers, clients, etc.) aren’t looking out for anyone but themselves. This shouldn’t surprise or anger you. Yet every day, I meet professionals who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own needs and desires because they’re afraid or embarrassed. They think, “If I really deserve this thing, they’ll offer it to me.” These people find excuses for why things don’t work out; they drop hints and play games. But they never just bite the bullet and say, “Here’s what I want, here’s why I want it, and here’s why I think you should give it to me.” And then they wonder why they feel so powerless.
People can’t read your mind (and let’s face it, they wouldn’t want to if they could). So it’s up to you to explain what’s going on in there. When you want something, you have to ask for it, plain and simple. Here’s how:
Know Why It Matters
Whatever “it” is—a promotion, a raise, an extra day of vacation, a little help with a project—you have to be clear about what it’s worth to you, why you’re willing to stand up for it, and why it should be yours. Come up with the top three reasons your boss (client, coworker or whoever) simply can’t say no. And, most importantly, make sure you believe you deserve it with all your heart (even if it takes a little convincing).
The process of asking works best when you’re specific, concise and very, very direct. The more vague you are, the more likely your request will be misinterpreted or ignored. I recommend writing it out. One or two sentences is usually all it takes to clearly state your case. It also works best to start with the words, “I’m asking for…” so there’s no confusion.
Pick Your Time
Make sure the person to whom you’re making your request is really listening. Otherwise, your efforts will be wasted. If needed, ask for an appointment to ensure there are no interruptions. (Also, make sure you’re directing your ask to the right person.)
Prepare for Objections
If something matters, it probably won’t be handed over without a little hesitation. That’s perfectly fine. Prepare in advance for potential objections but don’t do the work for them. In this process, you are the sales person. Recognize that your “buyer” is just doing his due diligence but don’t let him persuade you. Stand firm and map out your rebuttals. Look at it as a challenge. This is the fun part!
Confidence makes all the difference. Put your thoughts on paper and then practice, practice, practice. Stand in front of the mirror and watch yourself. Don’t stop until you’re thoroughly comfortable and the words roll of your tongue. Yes, it might feel a little goofy at first, but you’ll get over it. The more you can demonstrate that you believe in yourself and that what you’re asking for is rightfully yours, the greater the chance that you’ll get a positive response.
If your request is declined, don’t put your tail between your legs and go home. Instead, use this as a conversation starter. Ask for more information. Fight for your point-of-view. Find out what needs to happen in order to get to “yes”. Press for specifics and get agreement. Then, follow up. Remember: When something is really worthwhile, it may take time to achieve.
When I was in college, I spent a year in England as part of my University’s study abroad program. What an amazing experience! And, while I brought back a lot of weird slang and an unusual faux accent (which thankfully disappeared quickly), the one British-ism I still refer to regularly is “Mind the Gap.”
You see, the London underground system (which they call the “tube”) has a looping announcement for passengers to “please mind the gap,” referring to the space between the train and the platform. Apparently, tourists like me just love this. It’s so polite! Us Americans would say something like, “Don’t fall in, idiot.” Or, even more likely, we’d post a discreet sign saying, “Property owner not responsible for injury.”
So “Mind the Gap” is a popular slogan for touristy t-shirts in London. It’s also one of those things that can make a gal nostalgic for a little British courtesy and a public transportation system that really works. But that’s neither here nor there.
I bring this up today because, in my work as a career coach, I find most of my clients come to me when there’s a gap of some sort. There’s a gaping hole between where they want to be and where they are. That gap is so big and so intimidating; they have no idea how to cross it. So they simply stand there, on the training, letting it take them wherever it happens to be going. They never make the leap to the platform.
While working with one client in particular, something new dawned on me. As she sat there making excuses for all the ways in which her career was out of her control, complaining that her motivation was low and her confidence shot, I suddenly heard that polite safety announcement in my head, “Please mind the gap.” And that’s when it hit me.
“Maybe your mind IS the gap!” I shouted.
She stopped speaking and looked at me like I was possibly having a stroke.
“You see,” I told her, “the gap between where you are and where you want to be isn’t that big. But your mind has turned it into something insurmountable. You’re letting your fears and anxiety run the show. We just have to get your mind back in check. It’s like that old trick, mind over matter. Except…it’s mind over job!!”
And thus a new idea was born.
Here’s the truth: Your mind is a powerful tool. But, if you don’t actively manage it, all kinds of junk can take over. Fear, anxiety, self-sabotage…these things live in everyone. When left unchecked, they can create a negativity spiral. That’s when that gap between where you are and where you want to be becomes a giant chasm, impossible to leap across.
If you’re not happy at work, you’re not powerless. Perhaps your mind has played tricks on you, messed with your confidence and forced you to believe you’re stuck. But, in reality, you have everything you need. You CAN take charge of your career by simply mastering your mind.
A few years ago, I decided I was going to run a marathon. I bought a brand new pair of Nikes, loaded my iPod full of great running songs, and mapped out the perfect route around my house. A month later, my Nikes were still pristine, my iPod was collecting dust and that perfect route was gently mocking me every time I left my house. Needless to say, I had the motivation at some point. And then, without any warning at all, it was suddenly gone.
But I’ve learned a thing or two about motivation over the years. And I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. So, here’s what I did to get the excitement back (and keep it) and how you can use these same steps to stay motivated in any endeavor.
1. Know Thyself
The first mistake I made was thinking I could train for this big event on my own. I’m the kind of person who really thrives in a group. I’m a natural teacher’s pet so group programs inspire me to excel and bring out a healthy competitive spirit. Plus, I need support from others who are right there with me, aiming for the same goal. Knowing this about myself, I decided to join Team in Training, an organization that helps train people for endurance events while raising money for Leukemia. With professional trainers and a huge group of like-minded people, I started actually looking forward to our scheduled training sessions.
Pro Tip: Figure out what works best for you and tailor your approach accordingly. If your goal-getting strategy isn’t aligned with who you naturally are, your motivation will sink.
2. Keep It Real
As a non-runner, it was a little overly ambitious to set out with the goal of running a marathon. My motivation waned almost immediately because it seemed like such a stretch from where I was. When I started, I couldn’t run a mile without getting seriously winded. So I scaled it back a bit and focused on a half-marathon event instead. This made the whole idea much less intimidating and the prospect of achieving my goal much more realistic, and my motivation soared.
Pro Tip: Remember the ever-important “R” in SMART goals. Yes, stretching yourself is a good thing. But, when a goal feels impossible, motivation is hard to come by.
3. Take Responsibility
Ultimately, even though I was on a team running with a group of other non-runner people, I was the only one responsible for my success or failure in this goal. I was the one who had to deal with the aches and pains after a long run. I was the one who had to wake up early in the morning to hit the track for training. And, as I ran those intense 13.1 miles, it was my voice I heard most loudly, cheering me on. No one else could have pushed me as hard as I was willing to push myself. When I crossed that finish line, I knew my team had encouraged me, but it was still MY win. I had held myself accountable for reaching this goal, and I took the necessary steps to ensure I found my motivation and kept it right through to the end.
Pro Tip: Own your goals. No one else should care about your motivation more that you do. This is your gig, so stop looking to others to keep you on-track.
This past weekend, I became very familiar with a little thing called “resistance”. It’s kind of like a temperamental toddler in your head, kicking and screaming and repeating, “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!” That’s what resistance feels like. It happens when you know you SHOULD do something, you know you WANT to do it, and you know you CAN do it, and yet…you just don’t wanna.
So that’s where I was all weekend long. It started on Friday, when I arrived at my fifth (and final) three-day life coaching class. I was excited. I was ready. I was in it to win it.
And then I wasn’t. Just like that. Something flipped in my brain and I was suddenly a cranky two-year-old. All this personal growth stuff just didn’t sound fun anymore. I didn’t feel like examining myself or pushing myself or improving. I didn’t want to help others. It just felt…wrong.
I ignored it at first. Friday came and went and I pushed through as best I could, but my heart wasn’t in it. Saturday progressed at a snail’s pace. And then finally, I snapped. I grabbed my favorite coach in class, yanked him outside during an exercise and unloaded a pile of verbal vomit on top of him. And, ya know what? It was cool. He handled it. He listened and didn’t judge and gave me permission to be whatever I needed to be in that moment— selfish, angry, confused. It was A-OK.
And then I went back to class.
The next day, Sunday, our last day of class, something shifted. The resistance was still there, but instead of beating myself up for it, I let myself sit with it. I didn’t fight it or ignore it. I just accepted the reality of what I was going through. And it dawned on me that resistance is a natural part of growth. It happens to everyone. I’m not special or weird for feeling this way. This understanding made me almost giddy.
It then occurred to me, during a conversation with a fellow classmate (who also happens to be a yogi) that I deal with resistance all the time in yoga class. Sure, it’s more physical than mental, but the same principles apply. I’ve found that, when you’re trying to stretch into a particularly difficult posture, and your body is tight and resistant, it doesn’t help to push your way through. In fact, that’s a sure-fire way to hurt yourself. The better approach is simply to relax into it. Let the resistance be there, keep your breath steady, and slowly, you’ll ease a little closer to your goal.
Ultimately, you have to give yourself space to feel the resistance, respect it, and work with it instead of against it. I think that goes for all kinds of resistance.
I share this story with you because resistance is normal. I want you to know that everyone goes through it. There are times to push and challenge, and there are also times to relax and let go. You get to make the choice. Give yourself permission to be a bratty toddler now and again. Sometimes, you’ll learn more from that experience than you would otherwise. When you relax into it, you may actually stretch more.