7 Ways to Learn From the Things You're Bad At


At what are you bad?

Everyone is rubbish at something.

Do your plants have an average lifespan of 24 hours?

Are you banned from your local pub's Karaoke Night?

Were you 20 minutes late to your wedding?

You may prefer to either ignore the things you stink at or take every opportunity to flagellate yourself.

The key is to neither avoid nor dwell on your weaknesses, but to discover what you can learn.

The classic definition for weakness uses words such as "shortfall" and "deficiency."

I prefer Buckingham and Clifton's definition of a weakness in the book Now, Discover Your Strengths as "anything that gets in the way of excellent performance."

Buckingham and Clifton argue that you're better served devoting time and energy to building your natural strengths than overcoming weaknesses.

To that, I concur.

I add that there is much to learn from the weaknesses that get in the way of excellent performance or cause you pain.

I am unable to fix a glitch under my car's hood, and my lack of engine acumen causes me no dissatisfaction. But I used to be god-awful at something that made me feel like a bad wife, co-worker, and friend.

No matter how hard I tried, I remained bad.

I was a lousy listener.

I'd space off, drift away, and zone out.

When it dawned on me mid-conversation that my mind was in a wormhole, I'd interject with, "You're kidding," or "I know, right?"

I hated that I couldn't hear.

One night at a dinner party I told a story after a long period of zone out. Everyone laughed, and I thought I was clever until I heard, "She doesn't realize we're laughing at her ."

They were laughing because someone had just told the exact same story as I had, and I was completely unaware.

As a child, I was often told that I didn't listen. This was in reference to authority, but I may have translated that into I didn't physically listen to the words coming out of people's mouths.

As an adult, I've spent much time exploring my natural talents and how I best learn. I've realized that I best absorb new information while interacting, doing, and teaching.

Most of my learning as a child was done at a desk where I had to sit still and listen while the teacher fed me information. In response, I squirmed, daydreamed, doodled, and chatted to the kid next to me.

"Listen up, Allyson."

"Sit still, Allyson."

"Pay attention, Allyson."

They told me.

But I couldn't.

I wanted to move, speak, and interact.

A usesful tool for helping me to understand how I best learn was designed by Kathy Kolbe, a specialist on the different ways people solve problems.

Kolbe posits that there are four universal human instincts used in creative problem solving: fact finder, quick start, implementer, and follow thru.

I am off the charts high on quick start. This means my natural tendency is to jump into a new project with both feet. I crave innovation, risk taking, and racing the clock.

Understanding my natural talents has led me to many new discoveries in my life, including a new profession.

And here's the miraculous thing. When I understood the best career for me - one that truly allowed a quick start to thrive - I became a professional listener.


I become a life coach.

Life coaches serve many purposes, but chief among them is to truly listen.

As I fine-tuned my coaching ability, my lame listening skills did a complete turn around. I was soon able to listen with my entire body.

But there's a catch.

My listening deficiency was not cured. I'm still comatose when seated in an auditorium listening to a lecture without a doodle pad.

Instead, I thrive at a specific type of listening, which brings me to a second tool for understanding your true talents: the Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder resources.

According to Strengthsfinder, my greatest strength (called a theme) is Strategic. This means I excel at spotting relevant patterns and creating new ways to solve problems.

So I listen best when a client is talking about a dilemma or objective for their life, and I'm listening for patterns, best routes, and alternatives for them to arrive at the ideal solution.

Returning to the original question: What are you bad at...and it negatively impacts your life?

Maybe you're actually good at your weakness, but you just need to better understand it (as was my case). Or maybe you need to let it go altogether because there are better uses of your time.

The following are 7 ways to learn from your weaknesses:

1. Consider why it bothers you

If a weakness is preventing you from being your best, then take action. Start with #3 below.

If your weakness is not getting in the way of excellent performance, then consider why your weakness bothers you.

You may be losing a great deal of time and energy learning to do something you don't really need in your life.

2. Were you ever told you were bad?

I clocked in a lot of hours playing basketball during the off-season in high school, but I never advanced passed above average.

One night I played unusually well against a rival team, and my coach told me the next day to continue playing cautiously because I didn't have the natural ability.

At the time, the comment crushed me.

It also left me with the limiting belief, "I don't have natural talent."

Now I see he was right about my natural basketball ability, but more on that in a second.

The point here is not to dwell on the past, but to be aware. Do a scan of the poor performance that's causing you pain, and see if a painful comment from your past comes up.

If it does, be grateful for the ways you've benefited from the comment, and try to let go of the parts that no longer serve you.

3. Burn the boat to learn to swim

If a weakness is getting in the way of excellent performance, then immerse yourself in what you suck at.

If you're a lousy writer, take a creative writing course. If speaking before an audience makes you vomit, join Toastmasters. If you can barely boil water, host a dinner party.

Don't go past the limits of your comfort zone, but instead push the outer edges.

I was a lousy listener who started listening for a living. I discovered that I actually loved doing the thing I sucked at in a certain way.

See what you discover by diving into an activity you normally shy away from or even fear.

4. Are you working hard but not improving?

I grew up in a system that revered kids who were naturally talented at sports. I worked my buns off at basketball, but I didn't have the natural ability to be great.

When I moved to Europe after college and played soccer for the first time, I was a natural. But soccer wasn't an option for me growing up.

If you've been working hard at something over an extended period of time without seeing results, then you may be better served putting your energies into something else, something you thrive at.

If I had the opportunity growing up, I would have played soccer not basketball. But I didn't.

Happily, as an adult, I have more freedom to make the necessary shifts in my life to allow my true talents to flourish.

4. Are you blaming your high school basketball coach?

You may have just reason to blame another player or the game for why you're bad at something, but that does nothing to serve you.

If you want to improve or better understand a weakness, then take action. Start by taking the steps offered here.

5. View all failure as feedback

If you've been trying to improve your time management skills to run smoother than the Swiss Railways, then view all failure as feedback.

Reflect on the flights you've missed and the harried scrambles to arrive to work on time, and see how you can improve. This will do way more to serve you than self-criticism.

6. View all attempts as success

If you have two left feet but love to dance, then showing up to Zumba class is a triumph. Pat yourself on the back for each Merengue march and cha-cha pivot turn. Not only do you deserve a bit of praise, recognition will help motivate you to return to a second class.

7. See what happens when you invest in yourself

Take the time to discover your natural strengths and learn from your weaknesses.

By understanding how you best learn and create you'll be able to turn weaknesses into strengths, improve weaknesses just enough to meet your needs, or let them go altogether.

The result is a more productive, talented, inspired, and thriving you.

I'd love to know! What are you bad at? Post a comment below.