Are Your Supposed Weaknesses Actually Your Strengths?

The summer after my freshman year of college, I approached the editor of a small, family-run, local magazine about the possibility of interning for him in some capacity. To test my abilities, he gave me an article assignment. But when I couldn’t get confidential information out of a source, the piece was scrapped, and he told me I wasn’t aggressive enough for the journalism industry.

I was crushed.

Fast forward about seven years. I was working full-time as a marketing associate at an academic book publisher, but still freelancing on the side. A family friend mentioned my name to this editor — the very same editor who had long ago made me doubt myself — and he contacted me about writing features for his magazine.

Obviously, he didn’t remember who I was. Not only that, but he ended up liking my work so much that he tried to lure me away from my job so that I could become a staff writer for his magazine. I was having none of it.

I eventually stopped writing for him because the pay was meh, and he kept introducing errors into my final copy. I also found him patronizing.

It was a valuable experience, though. It showed me clearly that while I may not be aggressive enough for hard news, my ability to develop a rapport with my sources when in a one-on-one, casual interview made me a valuable asset.

Plus, it was extra-satisfying to turn down a man who had once upon a time told me I wasn’t good enough.


I still have self-doubts.

All the time.

I receive cruel comments and wonder if I’m too sensitive to be a writer. I agonize over the editing process and writers’ rates and worry that I’m too much of a writer to be an editor.

When I was taking my career coaching teleclasses, and stumbling my way through role playing scenarios, I constantly argued with myself in my head: What were you thinking!? I asked myself. You’re an introvert who takes medication for her social anxiety! Your shrink suggested booze and pot as a means of preventing panic attacks! What makes you think you can excel on a career path that requires you to interact with others!?

My classmates saw things differently.

They told me that they saw in me empathy, and the ability to put clients at ease. They told me that they saw warmth and friendliness and humor. They were impressed with my ability to so quickly connect with others on a more personal level.

They saw in me the same attributes others saw in my writing. But I had been hiding behind my writing for so long that it didn’t occur to me that the ways in which I excelled there could carry over into other aspects of my life.

(photo via)

When you think about it, empathy… warmth… self-deprecation… the ability to connect with people one-on-one… these things are just the flip side of my social anxiety. They’re abilities I was forced to develop as a means of dealing with my unbridled panic when among larger groups of people. They’re strengths that come directly from my weaknesses. Could it be that your weaknesses are really strengths as well?

Maybe your struggles with hard news are an indication that you’d excel more at personal essays and profiles.

Maybe your struggles with sales are an indication that you’d have better luck with guerrilla marketing.

Maybe your struggles with public speaking mean you’d do better offering e-books, teleclasses, or e-courses.

But maybe you’re having trouble seeking the flip side of your supposed weaknesses.

Homework Assignment: With your personal struggles in mind, ask a close friend or colleague where they think your strengths lie. It may be that they see something in you that you can’t.

Bonus Homework Assignment: Tell someone else what it is you see in them. Give them the gift of previously unrealized possibility.

And of course, do report back in the comments below. Tell us about any revelations that have come about, and what they might mean for your freelance business. New marketing tactics? New products or services? A new niche? Come on! We’re dying to know!

Related Posts: Reason To Write: To Find My Voice, How To Build Your Network Without Having A Panic Attack, 10 Interview Tips From A Reporter Scared Of Reporting


  1. This is great – and very thought provoking. I will try now to look at what I regard as my weaknesses, as strengths. Your story is inspiring.

  2. What a wonderful, positive way of thinking about things. It is kind of like – pardon the cliche – finding the silver lining. Thanks for reminding me that there are so many facets to a personality and the things about ourselves that we usually struggle with or dislike have another side to them…

  3. My thought has always been to just BE who we are, and everything else will fall into place. I’ve tried being “someone else” when it comes to work, and that never works out. It just makes me feel pushed and pulled in directions that aren’t “me.”

    • I completely agree with Jane B’s way of thinking – I’ve found it so much easier to succeed when I can be genuine about the work I’m doing. Freelancing can be a big hustle for the paycheck, but aren’t we all freelancers because we’re trying to play to our strengths and pursue what we love?

    • I’m really trying to stop fitting into someone else’s idea of what I should be, so I agree. I’m going to pay attention in the next few weeks and see if I can convert my weaknesses into strengths.

  4. Very wise. I have always thought of myself as self centered, so it meant a lot to me when my mother fretted one day–“You just are too generous–doing too much for other people.”


    But I think it is very very difficult to see yourself as others see you. You have to ask. That’s why your little “assignment” is brilliant. You ask us to look at somebody else.

    • I love this anecdote, Vera. I think that there’s no one else in the world who can affect my feelings of self-worth as drastically as my mother can. God forbid she says anything about my outfit…

  5. I love the story about the guy hiring you after initially turning you down. Sometimes I think people say that to youngsters to toughen them up and make them more determined to succeed. I don’t know if you’ve watched Gilmore Girls, but Rory is told something similar by her boss (and her BF’s dad – awkward!) and she goes on to cover the Barack Obama campaign, proving him dead wrong.

  6. I too loved the story about that intellectually challenged “man” (?) who first turned you down. I feel you dodged a bullet! I have had experiences like that where I was fired from a job I should have quit (most people would have) but I wasn’t a quitter! Oh brother! I actually laughed out loud reading your story, and I too am a very sensitive artist and take negative comments way too personally. If they hadn’t said what they said to me, I wouldn’t have shrunk back into the crowd and there I found out some verrrry interesting things I wanted to know anyway!

    So, in life I am finding out, as you did that some of my weakest links may actually be my strongest! Just like muscles, you have to exercise them.

    I REALLY enjoyed your article and feel encouraged to find my new passion! (My former passions in the shape of my three sons, grew up. So, now I am finding my “new” life and doing many of the things I always wanted to but couldn’t because my boys needed new shoes, etc.

    God bless, and may you continue to write more Great Stuff like this story. I LOVED IT!

  7. This is a very inspiration post and a useful homework assignment. Few people ever get out of themselves to see how others see them. It can really flip things around in terms of self-perception.

  8. “I receive cruel comments and wonder if I’m too sensitive to be a writer.”

    Me too. All the time.

    Thanks for this inspiring post!

  9. So true! Sometimes we let ourselves or others decided things that are simply not true.

    I am an actress and when i was in high school I had a teacher who HATED me. She once told me I had no talent and would never be able to play any part other than a 17 year old slut since thats what I was (I had never ever kissed a boy). I was devastated. I even transferred schools.

    Once I did, I was cast as the 70 yr old grandma in Lost in Yonkers. I won 2 statewide awards for that role and became type cast as the evil/old lady in every high school play since.

    One of the awards, I won over that same teachers students, while she watched. Oh sweet victory;)

    Dont believe everyone. Not even yourself.

  10. What a wonderful post and a valuable reminder to look for the best in ourselves, even when we don’t see it. I think of myself as not being very confident in groups, especially large ones. My friends tell me otherwise, that I come off as confident and self-assured. I need that reminder. All the time.

    • I connect with this comment so much. I’ve written about my introversion, and the fact that I’ve been on medication for social anxiety. I feel like a wreck when I’m in a group or a crowd! But when I mention to people that I’m socially… challenged… they think I’m a loon!

  11. I love this post, Steph. I think it takes years to reach the point that you can look at yourself and see great strengths in what others — and you, yourself — have deemed weaknesses. So many of us waste so much time trying to be somebody we’re not, somebody we don’t even *like*, for God’s sake.

  12. Thank you so much for writing this. I am a writer and I struggle with this ALL THE TIME. There have even been times when I’ve considered throwing it in, just because I’ve been so anxious about having to call a particular source. This is such a good reminder that the very thing that can cause me trouble – my lack of aggression in reporting (I too am not cut out for “hard news”) has also been a blessing in other aspects of my life.

    • Ha! I’m working on an article for YourTango on premarital counseling and, yesterday, I had four (!) phone interviews scheduled with sources. I felt nauseous and overwhelmed before every single one. And I totally ended up enjoying every single one! Interviews are the best when they become natural, almost-casual conversations.

  13. Just found this (and so glad I did)! Thanks for sharing your personal story.

    This is a great testament to determination. I also believe that certain types of writing “fit” certain types of people. Not every type of writing is for every person–even if you are a writer.

    A talented writer can sometimes persevere and produce something even when the fit isn’t there, but when the fit is there it makes all the difference in the world!

    I’m so glad your classmates helped you to find your niche. Keep on with what your doing–you’re great at it!

  14. What an interesting perspective and an inspired homework idea. I’m going to follow up.

  15. I once had someone tell me my writing was great, but I would never win any awards. I tried really hard to take that as a compliment. Then, I thought about the awards people get for writing. Most of the time you pay an entry fee for a subjective opinion of your work. I took that compliment as a means to launch my own business. I now have more work than I need, and my clients are happy. So, I agree – just because one person sees you in a certain light – it’s not the end of the world. I took an area of supposed weakness and turned it into a business. Thanks for helping me realize that.

Speak Your Mind