Blinded by strength

One of the takeaways from Robert Greene’s Mastery: take weaknesses and turn them into strengths. My favourite example of this is related in the tale of Thomas Edison:

“Through books, experiments, and practical experience at various jobs, Edison gave himself a rigorous education that lasted about ten years, up until the time he became an inventor. What made this successful was his relentless desire to learn through whatever crossed his path, as well as his self-discipline. He had developed the habit of overcoming his lack of an organized education by sheer determination and persistence. He worked harder than anyone else. Because he was a consummate outsider and his mind had not been indoctrinated in any school of thought, he brought a fresh perspective to every problem he tackled. He turned his lack of formal direction into an advantage.”

The obvious way to use this idea is to ask yourself, “What are my weaknesses and how can I use them?” But there’s another less obvious question that relates to the relationship between strengths and weaknesses: “Am I blinded by my strengths?”

Consider the example of a professional fighter. Imagine he is gifted physically. He is the fastest, the strongest, the most agile man on the planet. That is his strength; no one can match his athletic prowess. But his prowess can become his prison. Knowing such a physical advantage, he can afford to relent his focus on his technical abilities. He can compensate for sloppy footwork or the unconscious dropping of his hands with his physical gifts. But as he ages and accumulates injuries, the gulf between his physicality and that of his opponents diminishes. His sloppy footwork results in more time defending from his back on the ground. His lowered hands means he eats more punches than he used to. What was a strength has nourished a weakness. 

The same can happen to us. We can become reliant on what we’re good at, regardless of whether that strength was inherited or earned. So yes, our strengths are our foundations, but they too can crack and destabilise the entire structure.