How well do you understand your weaknesses? I mean, the gaps you have in your life that are holding you back – the things that are keeping you from creating the depth you’d like to… It struck me the other day that although I think I know what my weaknesses are, I might be missing some things.

I was listening to the book Principles, where Ray Dalio shared the importance of understanding your two biggest barriers in life, your ego, and your blindspots. The ego barrier is what hinders us from acknowledging our weaknesses openly. Dalio shares the following, “We like to believe our own opinions without properly stress-testing them. We especially don’t like to look at our mistakes and weaknesses. We are instinctively prone to react to explorations of them as attacks. We get angry, even though it would be more logical for us to be open to feedback from others. This leads to us making inferior decisions, learning less, and falling short of our potential.”

That last line hit me hard, and so I decided to do something about it…

Immediately after listening to this, without hesitating, I prepped an online survey that asked the following three questions:

  1. What is my greatest strength or skill?
  2. What is my greatest weakness or gap?
  3. Where do I have the greatest opportunity to improve?

Then, I sent an email to 25 people in my circle whose opinions I value deeply, and who know me well. This included my team at OrangeBall, some clients, close friends, and my wife, Cristina. The key to this whole process was not hesitating. If I had over-thought this, I would have spent time looking over the edge at the water below, asking how deep or cold it was rather than just jumping. Fear and the unknown would have made me step back and reconsider what I was asking for. Instead, I stepped off the ledge and jumped, sending out these questions and preparing myself for the answers that would come back.

I was very direct in the email to my circle that I wanted honest, raw feedback. There would be no value in this exercise if people tried to soften the blow that honesty would deliver. Their input would come back to me anonymously, and so it gave people some additional room to get real with me, which is precisely what I wanted. Honesty was the reason I was doing this in the first place. 

Truth be told, this exercise was never really that dangerous. I believe that most of the people I sent this to genuinely like me, and care about me. That allowed two things to happen as the results started coming back. First, when they answered the first question and named some strengths, it made me feel good. I think that’s part of the reason I included that as the first question – it felt good to hear people say I was good at things. It also helped shed some light on the areas where I should be spending more time and energy. Second, knowing that this feedback was coming from people that care about me, I was able to take in their perspectives on my weaknesses more openly and be less defensive. 

Notice I said “less” defensive.

If I were to tell you that I didn’t get a little defensive, I would be a liar. I didn’t immediately fall in love with everything that people shared. I had to read a few responses over a couple of times. When someone calls out a weakness they see in you, or a place where you have some room to improve, it’s tempting to reply with, “Yeah, but…” On some level, we’re wired to protect ourselves, and that wasn’t any different in this situation. Even though I had been the one to open this door and ask for people’s input, I still had to be intentional to reset my head and remain open-minded. These were not attacks; they were constructive criticisms…

Constructive, as long as I looked for ways to build upon them.

So, what do I do with this feedback now? I have a few options…

  1. Stay weak. This isn’t a favorable option, but it’s certainly an option nonetheless. There were weaknesses that people shared with me that I have known about for a while. They didn’t shock me or surprise me; they’re simply things I’ve been tolerating in my life. That goes back to another of Dalio’s principles: Identify and don’t tolerate problems. Here’s an example of that… If I know that my responsiveness to emails is slower than I’d like, and people shared that with me as one of my weaknesses, I need to make a choice. Will I tolerate that as a weakness, or finally do something about it? The only value in asking people for their feedback is taking action when you get it, so we’ll move on to our next three options…
  2. Focus on growing. There are some weaknesses we have in our lives that we have the power to do something about. We’ll stay on the subject of my email responsiveness. I don’t respond slowly because I don’t care, quite the opposite. I simply don’t have an effective process in place for communicating. By taking steps to put a process and rituals in place for handling my digital communication, I can get stronger in this area and begin to eliminate a weakness that is holding me back.
  3. Ask for help. Another option for addressing our weaknesses is to ask for help. If my email responsiveness was a weakness I couldn’t strengthen on my own, I might need to ask someone else to lend me a hand. We need to note that some of our weaknesses are areas we shouldn’t work on strengthening ourselves. Instead, there are things in our lives that we can delegate. For a while, I was convinced that I needed to become a great photographer to help serve my marketing clients better. I soon realized that there are already photographers in the world, and that instead of me becoming one, I could partner with some of the great ones. Asking for help was a game-changer.
  4. Add accountability. The reality is, I sometimes need someone else to hold me accountable. It’s not that I don’t want to improve and address my weaknesses, but I can guarantee you that I am going to get distracted and sidetracked. Knowing that about myself, I am going to ask people to hold me accountable for getting stronger.

This whole journey goes back to that last line from Dalio, “This leads to us making inferior decisions, learning less, and falling short of our potential.” I don’t want to live an “inferior, less than, short of my potential” life. I’m not willing to settle. So, now that the feedback is coming in from the outside, it’s up to me what I’m going to do with it.

As we end, I’ll be really honest. Most of the weaknesses people shared didn’t land in the area of blindspots. Most were things I was generally aware of. Like I mentioned above, they’re things I’ve tolerated, and by tolerating them I’ve let them hold me back. I think we all have some of those… the things we’re aware of but sweep under the rug, hoping we’re the only one who notices. We’re not, and for me, this exercise was a humbling way to shine a light on that.

The Takeaway

If you’re up for it, I encourage you to follow my lead and ask others for their feedback. Use an online survey, or just call people on the phone and ask them for their insights. It will require you to get vulnerable, humble, and prepared to hear a few things that will make you extremely uncomfortable. For me, this experience reminded me of riding a roller coaster. Dropping down that first steep hill can be heart-stopping, but it’s an exhilarating ride after that. I can promise you this… on the other side of your fear and discomfort is an opportunity to create something great in your life.

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Have an amazing week! – John Gamades