I was talking with a friend the other day about how to answer the question, “What are your weaknesses?” I was stumped for a while. Not because I don’t have any, but because I didn’t know how to articulate them in any reasonable way. I could think of a lot of things that are flaws of one kind or another, but nothing I would want to admit to publicly. When you talk about your weaknesses, you’re supposed to be able to turn them into strengths somehow. How does one convert, “I suffer from imposter syndrome” into something positive? I’ve spent a little while now thinking about my weaknesses, and the exercise isn’t getting any easier. I think I will have to make a list on one side of a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center and write “Fixes” down the other side. Maybe then I can make sense of it.
It seems to me that when someone asks you to describe your weaknesses, it’s a real set up. I can’t think of any really good reason to ask that question. It feels like a way engage in some form of “gotcha,” in which the asker is already prepared to shoot down your weakness as a faux weakness, or find fault with the weakness as a reason to discount all of your strengths. Whole articles are written to help people figure out how to answer the question without getting tripped up by it. I wonder what would happen if someone were to answer, “I have no weaknesses, but I do have some things that I need to improve.” I can’t imagine it would go very well, but it would be interesting to see.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be important to acknowledge things you’re not good at, that you need to improve, but a weakness is something like a fundamental flaw, not something easily fixable. When I looked up the word, “weakness” in the New Oxford American Dictionary’s thesaurus, it listed words like, fault, flaw, defect, deficiency, weak point, failing, shortcoming, imperfection. Geez, no wonder no one wants to admit having a weakness.
It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to acknowledge a weakness. It feels like something that could be exploited. We are trained, either directly or indirectly, not to show any weakness. There is also a degree of shame associated with it, like one should apologize for having one, or god forbid more than one.
On this 40-day journey through a wilderness of sorts, we have the opportunity to think about those places where we’ve fallen short and ponder how we can improve. I know I have a lot of things I need to work on, but am grateful that my self worth is not as tied to anxiety about admitting my flaws as it used to be. I struggle from time to time with self doubt, but I no longer focus on trying to impress people with my flawlessness and perfectionism. I am who I am, flaws and all, as are we all. Wouldn’t it be great humankind could get to the place where we accept and love people irrespective of their imperfections? My hope is that during these 40 days we’re taking time for self-compassion as we look within and prepare for Lent’s inevitable conclusion. May it be so.