Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Focus on your Strengths, but know your Weaknesses

In November, I asked for your help (Improve your Weaknesses or Strengths?). I had forgotten to deliver a letter to my six-year-old daughter and she missed her friend’s birthday party. I felt horrible and knew something needed to be done. But what? Should I work really hard to improve my weakness (and become an excellent delivery man) or should I use that energy on my strengths (and just refuse to make deliveries)?

After listening to your comments, reflecting on my options, and testing a theory for two months, I am ready to report back.

My plan: Focus on my strengths while acknowledging my weaknesses.

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Focus on Your Strengths

We cannot escape the reality of limited time. You cannot do everything. You cannot be great at everything. You have to choose. Those who attempt to be great at everything end up great at nothing. There is only so much time and energy in every day.

This is not an excuse for mediocrity, but a call to focused action. You were created with certain raw talents that require refinement. Stretch those muscles; work out those skills. Focus on your strengths and you will exceed your expectations. You will start to dream bigger, aim higher, and achieve more.

Last spring I spent a month asking myself, “What are my strengths?” I wanted to find those things I was created to do. I wanted to have the clarity of Eric Liddell, the olympic athlete whose life was made into the movie Chariots of Fire. He knew he was called to be a missionary to China, but he also loved to run. He said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” I wanted to list those things that cause be to feel God’s pleasure.

Here is what I came up with.

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Making a list, however, is easy compared to what comes next. Do I, now, have the courage to set aside distractions and focus on those strengths? Can I say “No” to what I am good at in order to say “Yes” to what I can be great at?

I think this is the key not only to my effectiveness, but also to my happiness.

When we focus on our strengths we experience the pleasure of doing what we were designed to do.

Focusing on our strengths, however, is not enough . . .

Acknowledge Your Weaknesses

The most painful part of my failed delivery was that it hurt someone I love. Like a car horn, it awoke me to the reality that my weaknesses hurt the people around me.

One of the commenters on the post, Andrea Buczynski, pointed that out.

Doesn’t it come down to “what kind of person do I want to be to whom?” being reliable to your family is different than being a good mailman. what kind of dad? what kind of husband? what kind of friend do i want to be? do I want to be someone that people can count on? You may never be as good as your wife at those things but for the relationships that matter, I’m thinking you want to be the best you can be.

We cannot ignore our weaknesses, because they affect our relationships—especially with those closest to us.

A friend also left a comment that gave me an idea. Stephanie wrote:

I think you have to at least make a conscious effort to still try and deliver things. You could give fair warning of “I’ll probably forget.” So the person(s) depending on you are aware and can help remind you. 

So, I decided to start warning people when they asked me to make a delivery.

Here is how it usually goes:

“Josh, can you give this to Taylor for me.”
“Will you see Taylor soon? Maybe you want to give it to her yourself.”
“No, I won’t see her for a while and she needs it today.”
“OK. Just so you know, I am not very good at delivering things.”
They laugh.
“No, seriously, I am not a good delivery person. I once found a letter I was three years late in delivering.”
They stop laughing.
“Here is how you can help: send me a reminder text message tonight so I can make sure the letter gets to Taylor.”

Acknowledging my failure as a delivery man is not always easy—who wants to look incompetent at something so simple?—but I have stuck with the plan for the past two months. The results have been encouraging.

Almost immediately, my delivery rate shot through the roof. By talking about my weakness, I somehow improved it. I rarely need the reminder message; the conversation is enough to lock the delivery in my mind.

Most importantly, I am showing more consideration and love to those close to me.

Not an Excuse, but an Opportunity

It is tempting to use a statement like “Focus on Your Strengths” as an excuse to ignore your weaknesses. That, according to my experience, is fatal to your most important relationships. Instead, focusing on your strengths is an opportunity to acknowledge your weaknesses.

Perhaps our weaknesses are meant to remind us we are not perfect, we cannot do everything, we need others in our life.
Perhaps our weaknesses are meant to grow our gratitude for this diverse and beautiful world God has created.
Perhaps our weakness are meant to keep us humble—interdependent on others and dependent on God.
Perhaps knowing our weaknesses is one of our greatest strengths.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Matt Henning

    I like the balance of focusing on your strengths as an opportunity to acknowledge your weaknesses. While also putting aside some of the things your good at, to say yes to what you are great at. Need to do both of those things more.

    • Josh

      Yes, the balance is the hardest part. hey, safe travels!

  • good post, great balance, congrats on your victories