Warning: the following could be considered to some to be a touchy subject, but I assure you that I have a good sense of humor about it and I’m very open.
A lisp on a kid is freaking cute, a lisp on an adult isn’t quite so. As a wee child, I had a lisp that made adults like me more than I deserved (since I was a little shit and all) due to its cuteness. As I grew older though, having a speech impediment felt like more of a weakness. Not only did I have a lisp, but I was also awful at pronouncing certain words and I sometimes still struggle with that. I was like Stacey Dillsen from Zoey 101 minus the cotton schwab obsession (“sassafras”) and some kids even called me Stacey because of it. As I progressed into my tween years, I hesitated to volunteer for public speaking opportunities like reading a boring textbook passage aloud in class or answering a teacher’s question. My challenges in speech deterred my communication skills and my fear of public humiliation took away any speech development opportunities. Due to my lack of engagement, eventually communication in general became my weakness. Don’t get me wrong, my extroverted little self still loved talking to people, I just wasn’t very good at it. Maybe that’s why I became a strong writer…because you can’t lisp in written words.
However, it’s ten years later and I (for the most part) no longer have a lisp. I even tend to use big words with lots of “s” and “th” sounds from time to time. The only time you’ll actually hear my lisp is if you piss me off because for some reason my mouth decides to resort back to its former state when I’m going on an angry rant about god knows what.
Today was my third day of MBA orientation at Syracuse and our leadership workshop reminded me of my dealings with my speech impediment. Jeffrey A. Rodgers, an executive business coach (and a good one may I add), educated us about how important self-awareness is to leadership in the workplace and just in life. He emphasized being able to recognize one’s strengths and take advantage of them. And he also taught us to identify our weaknesses and how to seek improvement upon them. He asked us to write down three of our weaknesses and six opportunities that would come about if we were to conquer those weaknesses. Personally, I found the weakness piece of the workshop to be incredibly insightful and I wanted to share those insights with y’all using my own personal experience.
How does one deal with weakness?
Before I dive into this, I do want to say, a weakness is a weakness because of the way you frame that particular attribute of yourself. A weakness to one person may be a strength to another. For example, say Becky is a very extroverted person but she has the infamous “resting bitch face” which deters people from wanting to talk to her despite her yearning to gossip and make new gal pals that she can post basic selfies with. Thus, making the RBF a weakness of hers. Meanwhile, Ashley is introverted and doesn’t like too much social interaction; she would rather just be a hipster in a coffee shop and ignore everyone while she reads a book about how GMOs are responsible for killing all the polar bears (or something of that nature). To Ashley, she would consider having a resting bitch face as a strength because not only does it deter people from talking to her, but it also gives her the angsty vibe she was going for. ANYWAY (I went way too far into that example), my point is weakness varies depending on the person. In conclusion, I’m going to define a weakness as an personal attribute that is detrimental to yourself socially, emotionally, intellectually, physically, and all of the other -llys.
Alright, back to business. The first step is identifying what your weaknesses are. Sometimes, they’re very clear – like having a lisp that makes your words not-so-clear or sometimes they’re ambiguous and you’re not sure how to define them or sometimes you’re ignorant to the fact you even have a weakness. So, if you struggle to identify your weaknesses, ask yourself the following questions:
Okay now that your self-esteem has taken a hit, let’s take a deep dive into your personal shit show and ask yourself: why is it your weakness? What is the root of the weakness? Is it something natural like my lisp? Is it because of your personality? Lack of skill-set? It could even be a downfall of an exploited strength. For example, I’m a confident person, but sometimes my confidence can really kick me in the ass when I’m too cocky that I’m right about something that I’m actually wrong about. Figuring out why it is your weakness will help you to understand how to improve upon yourself.
Now that you have dove into the shit show, it’s time to emerge and figure out how to make that weakness into a strength. My answer is simple, but the execution is complicated. In order to conquer weakness, you must identify the opportunities that will come about from improving. By identifying the opportunities that will come from improving, you are creating both an intrinsic and extrinsic foundation for motivation for yourself. When you eventually ask yourself during the improvement process: why the hell am I doing this? You can tell yourself those reasons. So, the benefits of overcoming my speech impediment are improved leadership skills due to my ability to better communicate in group and public speaking scenarios and a major confidence boost because what’s hotter than a voice that doesn’t sound like you’re hissing half the time?!
And finally, to officially destroy the weakness, make yourself uncomfortable. Let’s say the introverted hipster I mentioned earlier, Ashley, wants to work on her social skills a little bit. In order to do this, she could actually approach one of the fellow coffee shop hipsters and start a conversation with them about her hatred for Netflix because it’s too mainstream and that she prefers indie films that she finds on Reddit. Could the conversation be uncomfortable? Oh yes. But will Ashley learn a thing or two about social interaction? Oh yes. Ergo, her social skills have improved by making herself uncomfortable. Eventually if Ashley were to approach enough hipsters, she could turn her social skills into a strength and start a hipster support group at the coffee shop.
It’s definitely way more fun and ego-stroking to identify your strengths, but uncovering your weaknesses is just as important, if not more. By knowing your weaknesses, you are creating a new level of self-awareness that allows you to lead a more fulfilled lifestyle. In the end, it’s all about humility and knowing that weakness is just an opportunity that hasn’t been capitalized on yet.
As for my lisp and I, I made myself uncomfortable by first taking special speech classes in grade school then minoring in communication in college. By enrolling in numerous classes, I was forced to practice and as the years went by, I learned how to properly form words and how to conquer that freaking lisp of mine. I especially knew I had kicked my Stacey Dillsen nickname to the curb when I was given the opportunity to speak at my graduation from Texas A&M University. I perfectly delivered the invocation in front of ten thousand people and I guess you can say my public speaking skills are a strength of mine now.