Wonder Woman–oh how incredibly appropriate for this post!
I had the pleasure of attending a networking event last month. It was focused on how to find, develop and discover what you can gain by leveraging strengths and natural skills, rather than attempting to repair weaknesses. More importantly, the overarching theme was to break down obstacles that may be impeding you from meeting your goals.
Before deciding to go the event, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I kept analyzing what it was that drew me to the event, and what exactly turned me off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And yes, I was totally over-thinking it.
We all have strengths.
First of all, I had to admit that I had strengths to work with. “Of course, I have strengths. I am a young PhD scientist, a good cook, and a decent photographer“ [even that was difficult for me to admit]. I also want to believe that I am an awesome mother to my human and cat children, and a fine wife. And by using all those lovely vague adjectives, I hope to convey that I am thoughtful, caring, kind, patient and respectful towards those I live with. Some days I settle on being a good-enough mother and wife. Also, I realize that just being a scientist does not make me “good” at science. But what I am trying to say is that all those above-mentioned characteristics shape me to be [what I consider] a fairly well rounded individual, and that’s a strength, right?.. Right?
The part I don’t want to talk about.
Now this is a good place to start the discussion on weaknesses. I didn’t want to think about my weaknesses [prior to going to the event]. I still don’t want to get into it. Nobody really does. It means somehow, on some level admitting defeat. It also means taking your mind to an uncomfortable place. Like a mental equivalent of doing cartwheels on the moon, or treading water in a shark tank, or teaching a toddler to breakdance. Weaknesses are private, and sometimes dark, and should be left alone. If you don’t talk about them, you can almost pretend that they don’t exist. Like climate change, for example [and because it is tricky to convey sarcasm via text, I want to make sure that I am clear about this last statement. Climate change is real. And it is important to address is. But maybe in a later post. Hopefully before we all die from a big methane burp].
The thing is, it is extremely challenging to think of your strengths and weakness objectively. For some it comes fairly easily (or at least they lead you to believe that, which would definitely be one of their strengths). For me it is not that straightforward. It is difficult to detach myself and go in with an open mind to be neutral, dispassionate and analyze my weaknesses and strengths without judgment. So now I have arrived to a point where I should probably confess my biggest weakness, if you haven’t guessed it already. Drumroll please… my biggest weakness is perfectionism. Yes, I am a perfectionist. No, this is not the time to say “oh how cute,” or roll your eyes and say “nah, that’s not really a weakness.” Perfectionism is very difficult to live with. Perfectionism is a struggle, which renders every day to be a challenging learning experience of channeling your talents and aptitudes in the right direction. There are good days and bad days. On good days you feel awesome and accomplished. You feel like you can do anything. On those days I feel like I am a truly awesome scientist and a stellar mother. On bad days you simply feel like you are just not good enough. No matter what you do. And that’s a not-at-all good feeling.
Why talk about all this stuff anyway?
It is not my intention to make this lengthy and frank account on strengths and weaknesses in general and mine in particular to be therapy session-like. The story above serves a purpose of introducing how my strengths and weaknesses are relevant to my life in real-time. What does this all mean circa now? Struggling with perfectionism is hard when you are a postdoc and a young mother. Some days are full of second-guessing yourself, which is exhausting in and of itself. Furthermore, with all the perfectionistic baggage, it is extremely arduous and exhausting to plan the next step in my professional career. What is especially excruciating is constructing/updating CV or resume and cover letters. “I have to do what? Write all the awesome things I’ve done with my professional life? Not sure any of what I’ve done would fit the purpose of this document!” It literally took me a couple of hours of sitting down with a friend who is an excellent resource on resume writing. She praised me for all the things I have accomplished so far and was able to navigate my story in a way that made me sound so… grown up… and professional. I was so pleased and surprised, and just a little disappointment–why oh why I couldn’t do that for myself? Why did it take someone close to me to recognize and record my accomplishments in the appropriate manner? Why is it difficult for me to recognize and “own it?”
Not alone on this.
Correct me if I’m wrong, I am not the only one in this universe who finds it difficult to acknowledge one’s talents or shortcomings. I know so many truly outstanding amazing talented people—many of them are in science, a large number of them are not who share something in common–struggle with similar issues that I have. Why is it so hard for many young professionals to recognize their accomplishments and be able to convey how really awesome they are on a professional and personal levels? When it comes to professional success, however, confidence is just as important as competence. So what do you do when you are a young professional trying to get your foot in the door of this intense world full of, what seems like, very self-assured all strengths/no weaknesses people? You fake it. Yep, that’s right. You “fake it, till you make it become it.” [Amy Cuddy is a genius!]
This is the single most powerful message I got from the networking event I mentioned in the beginning of this post. I am so glad I attended it.
And now I’m off to put my perfectionism on the shelf for today and strike that [Wonder Woman-like] power pose!