(Originally published as a guest on Nir Eyal's blog: http://www.nirandfar.com/2013/08/to-become-a-superstar-improve-your-strengths-not-your-faults.html)
To really differentiate yourself in this winner-take-all
world, you should be focusing on improving your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Most people who set out to improve themselves focus on their
faults. For example, here’s Bridget
one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds.
Number two: Always put
last night's panties in the laundry basket.
will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic
attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics,
peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional wits or perverts.”
While I don’t deny that it’s good habit
to place your undergarments in the laundry bin, it is not the best way to
achieve greatness. People who focus on their faults can eventually improve them
to a point where they are no longer obstacles, but doing so will not propel
them to success. A better strategy is to
focus on one or two of the things at
which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence.
Working on your faults might help you make a living, but honing your talents
may help you change the world.
We are all judged on a variety of traits. We might have four
bad traits, another four mediocre ones, and one or two for which we are
admired. We all recognize the four at bad
ones; we make New Year’s resolutions to improve them.
The impulse to focus on your weaknesses is a vestigial
remain of an outmoded era in our evolution.
Indulging that impulse won’t lead to success because we are in a modern winner-take-all
world. In this world, outsized
returns go to greatness, so it’s better to focus on one or two things at which you
truly excel and strive to become great at them.
Going from good to
great is really hard. But so is going from poor to mediocre. And if you have a
predisposition or talent for a trait it’s likely to be something you love to do
and you’ll enjoy the process of refining it.
If one of your really good traits is that you’re good-looking,
you should focus on being great-looking, because in your category the spoils
will go to a few people. So spend the money and time on those expensive haircuts,
the rigorous fitness routine, and the flattering clothes.
Suppose you are really good at developing computer
algorithms and really bad at showing up on time. It might take an X amount of effort to become
really great at computer algorithms and let’s say it takes X/4 effort to become
average at showing up on time. Both are
improvements that increase your value, but being great at computer algorithms will
pay exponential dividends.
Or let’s say you’re ugly but hilarious enough that strangers
pay you to make them laugh. Working on
your comedic skills will go a lot further than losing some weight. Being the funniest person in town is going to
make you stand out.
Have you ever noticed that all the most successful people
have massive, glaring weaknesses? Think
of Bill Clinton’s well-known faults. But
he has one or two traits in which he is world class. That’s all you need to be a superstar. Same thing goes for Martin Luther King Jr.,
Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and any other person that has changed the world. What does Tiger Woods do great? He hits golf balls long and accurately . . .
and that’s what he will be remembered for. People — all people — have very obvious flaws. Instead of spending massive amounts of energy
on those flaws, spend it on making yourself great.
Of course, it’s not as
easy as I make it sound, or else everyone would achieve greatness. To be outstanding requires passion,
dedication, and extraordinary commitment. The great pianist Arthur Rubinstein
practiced as much as 16 hours a day at some point in his career. He said that if he missed practice for one
day, then he knew it. But if he missed practice for three days, his public knew
For most of us it might be too late to be a concert pianist,
a champion golf player, or a prima ballerina. However, we do have talents and
natural abilities that, if honed, can propel us much further than remedying our