Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, February 10, 2006

Fucking Amazing

by AJ

"How many times in your life (school, career, relationships) have you been told about your "areas of improvement"? How much time and energy have you spent working on those areas? If you're a manager, how much emphasis do you put on those areas during a performance review?

Maybe instead of working on our weaknesses, we should be enhancing and exploiting our strengths? What if the price for working on weakness (and who even decides what is and isn't a "weakness"?) is less chance to be f'n amazing?"

--Kathy Sierra

I think Ms. Sierra is, once again, dead on. Ive noticed this phenomenon with myself. When I focus on weaknesses, I make small improvements, to be sure. But nothing very exciting happens. Typically, I become a bit more like everyone else. Competent, and not much else.

"Working on our weaknesses" has a nasty way of turning into: "becoming more mediocre". This is, unfortunately, the dominant management style in the world. Everyone, it seems, is obsessed with weaknesses. Performance reviews at most jobs focus primarily on this topic. Whether this is couched as "constructive criticism" or whatever, the effect is to create a risk-averse mindset.

By contrast, focusing on strengths tends to encourage risks.... and overall excellence. The Dale Carnegie speaking course, one of the most effective and most popular in the world, follows this approach. Dale Carnegie instructors never "correct" their students. Nor do they ever point out weakness. After every speech, they accent the students strengths. Confidence grows. Performance improves rapidly. By the end, some damn incredible transformations have taken place.

As teachers we've got a tough job. Bosses and students occasionally criticize us. And many of us (including me) are subject to self-criticism too. Yet all my focus on weaknesses has produced very little. Im at my best when I run with my strengths: enthusiasm, energy, use of authentic materials, whole language, etc. The more I push the envelope in these areas, the better I get.... the more I enjoy my job. And the more I enjoy my job, the more energy & enthusiasm I feel for it... the more I try to give to my students.

We can't please everyone. Some students have very deep conditioning... they are comfortable with only one type of education (typically formal, classroom & textbook based) and nothing we do will change them. Some fellow teachers and administrators have very different ideas than we do. They may view our strengths as weakness and implore us to be more like them (or their ideal).

Dont go down that path. Know yourself. Worry less about your shortcomings and instead focus on your unique talents. What makes you great? What charges you up? When are you at your best? When do you love teaching and when do you not?

Maximizing strengths does carry a few risks. You may run into trouble from folks who want to "improve" you. Ignore them. In the words of Kerouac, "Take your wisdom from your own experience". Never doubt your own dignity, power, and ability.

Rather than become like everyone else, follow your genius to become a unique teacher... great on your own terms. "Fixing" weaknesses may be admirable.... but its a lot more fun & effective to be fucking amazing at something.

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