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They called me the sickly child. I was diagnosed of acute pneumonia before I was six months old and as though the six injections per day during my infancy was not enough, I struggled with sicknesses most of my teenage years. The things that defined me mostly during my formative years were not the glorious childhood many people have. My childhood memories were either of abuse, rejection, bullying or teasing. The natural consequence of these experiences for a child in his formative years is the lack of self-esteem, fear and social awkwardness. The science of the impact of experiences on a child’s development is well established and so I should have grown up heavily carved in the negativity I had experienced but miraculously, I did not.
This article is written to share the power of our focused narrative and how the perception of reality can preserve us against whatever the suck maybe. I hope that by telling my story, I may inspire somebody to find courage to be their best self, irrespective of what the social context made of them.
2020 and the entire decade ahead of us, I believe is extremely relevant. In many parts it will be remembered as an ‘Annus Mirabilis’; a year that can only be miraculous, defying some reasonable expectations of science, if only one can harness the power of a positive narrative. The keys to the miraculous stories we will tell will be, as with all forms of miracles, Faith and Courage. This article is to encourage someone to have faith to live courageously.
Realities have a way of sharpening our narratives of life. The stories we tell ourselves about what is happening to us matter. They matter because they contribute to the perception of our own identity. For a child for whom consciousness has not been developed, the memories become the codes that run the sub-conscious and that code is interpreted throughout adult life. Our experiences help us define who we think we are. The perception of the reality we curate is particularly important because it becomes a useful evidence for understanding our strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths and weakness are powerful concepts. Where do we start from? Strength or Weakness? Well, since it appears bad turns to loom longer than the good, let’s start with weaknesses. We all turn to believe we have at least one; the things society says we shouldn’t be proud of, a lack of proficiency, an aptitude deficiency or such things as we may be terrible at. Weaknesses, the cultural narrative is, focus on them so strongly that you improve on them. Almost intuitive right? Well, wrong.
The unfortunate thing about a focus on weakness-improvement narrative is that, it is almost impossible to remediate your way into excellence. At best, your improvements on these weaknesses will likely make you an average person in that skill or need that was lacking. Time is a fixed and scarce resource and so weakness as a means of personal identity is really counterproductive although it sounds intuitive. It is for this reason that I propose a not so new perspective; anchoring our identity in our strengths. This is an approach that has been my salvation; strength-enhancing approach to life. I found in all the difficulties what I could do well even as a child and pursued them earnestly.
Do weaknesses matter? Maybe, but they are sure overrated. By all means, be self-aware to the point you know what the inherent lack maybe but focus on developing and improving your natural inclinations rather than wasting that time in remediating a weakness which may at best make you an average person.
The key liberating message is therefore for one to be genuine and to truly find one’s most productive and authentic self and to ‘do you’ in all forms of your strengths. Of course, with a huge dose of wisdom and intelligence to balance the pursuit of strength maximization with a context where the ‘weaknesses’ matter less.
The focus on strength or weakness matters and those two approaches are not the same. The context for improvement, which is the environment we create for improving the weakness or strength is at the heart of the differences in approach. If one’s weakness is social interaction but his/her strength is in cognitive ability, none of these ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’ have an absolute moral good in itself. They are only relevant to the goal one intends to achieve and how these said ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’ aid or detract from that goal. But the expenditure in training and skill development will vary significantly. For example, a basketball player may of necessity need to be a free thrower but that strength may not be necessary for a footballer and the training of free throws is different from the skills needed for a footballer.
The key lesson therefore is to seek and actively pursue environments for which one can optimize his/her strengths. Seek goals that aligns with your strengths. The question however is, can we all have courage to believe in our strengths and the faith to pursue a social construct which the strengths are celebrated rather than weaknesses punished? Must we pursue an extraordinary story of becoming absolute masters over weaknesses to the detriment of our natural proclivities?
That is a question of valuation of goals, a question that must be answered individually. Whatever the answers maybe, one must determine what is strength or weakness only in the light of what is intended to be achieved!
Every strength is a seed for a miracle if somebody will believe the path that strength may lead. My hope is that this article will lead to self-assessments of strengths irrespective of how insignificant you think it may be. Asking a group of people you trust the simple question of when you are at your best self may be the beginning of finding your strengths. The goal we set in life, should be set after asking, what ability or inclination of ours can we believe so strongly, irrespective of the many ‘weaknesses’ society says we have. Can you make that single ability your intentional pursuit? For the avoidance of doubt, I mean real abilities and not an imagination of one.
So back to my childhood stories, it did not take long for me to realize that, I loved the solitude the rejection offered. The apparent strength to read and write and the love to be independent were strength I learnt to embrace early. I wrote my first collections of poems pretty early in life. I knew I was not going to tender toward any physical work. Although I have checked myself into the gym and have improved my physical strength, I will never be Captain America and that is fine by me.
I do not set a goal to be the strongest and will never compete in such an endeavor. I however have a keen sense of my strength and understand that, if I keep improving my learning and writing abilities, I may be able to rise to become an authoritative voice of reason. The most important message is therefore that, find a context for your strength to blossom rather than getting dragged into the whirlwind of weaknesses.
The real dark side however is, what do you do when the strength is the weakness? When your strength is the curse one must manage, what do you do? For example, someone who is independent can easily be insensitive to other human beings. How then do we deal with this paradox of real strengths if even we decided not to focus on our weaknesses?
I think we may have some insights yet again from the foundational principles for miracles: faith and courage. Faith to believe you can develop necessary related strengths and courage to tender towards humility even in strengths is the key. So yes, focus on your strengths but grow your capabilities across necessary related strengths such that, you do not get sucked into the strength’s crooked edges.
In conclusion, such things as courage and fear are neither strength nor weakness. Fear kills. Courage produces miracles. So whatever your view of strength or weakness, do all you can to possess courage and overcome fear in all forms, not as a conception in strengths and weaknesses but as necessary conditions for survival.
Above all things, have the courage to be authentically you. The commitment for 2020 should be to be purely us but us, as intelligently as possible. May this year and decade by your best year yet, thriving on courage and faith.
My name is Yaw Sompa and I represent the New African. It is Annus Mirabilis.