Last month, in The Week Between, I found myself in a particularly contemplative mood. I’d wrapped up my first calendar year at my new job, I’d just bought my first house, and I was reflecting back on my decision to move home to Canada. That’s when I saw a tweet from Matthew Bischoff linking to a blog post about learning. Something about the quote from the post they chose really resonated with me.
Now, generally speaking, I don’t like to write blog posts that only summarize or paraphrase other blog posts. It feels gauche to not at least bring my own perspective to my writing. With that said, one trick I’m pretty good at it is lifting the essential kernels of truth from complex, abstract, and verbose ideas. So here I will highlight a few such kernels and encourage you to read the full post if any of this sounds helpful.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (and, to my surprise, I do meet people online who have been following my work for that long) then it won’t be a surprise to hear me extol the virtues of knowing yourself. You are kind of stuck with yourself, with your own aptitudes, preferences, habits, etc.
You benefit from knowing yourself because it helps you deal with you. (Anyone who has been through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will tell you this.)
Another way to find these is to look for things you can’t help but do that most other people don’t seem to do.
Knowing yourself (strengths and weaknesses) has practical benefits for your professional life. The blog post goes on to describe the value of improving the skills that you are natural gifted in, and I think there’s something to that.
[…] the thing that took me from being a pretty decent player to a very good player was abandoning practicing things I wasn’t particularly good at and focusing on increasing the edge I had over everybody else at the few things I was unusually good at.
While I am guilty of recommending other software developers should “know a little bit of everything”, I’ve more often suggested that they pursue a ”T-shape” – deep expertise which are applicable across a wide set of situations. Maybe what I’ve been guilty of, then, is over-emphasizing the breadth over the depth.
I think it’s super-helpful to have a deep area of expertise. If you can refine the skills that you’re naturally good at (the stem of the T), then you can apply those skills to great effect in a wide variety of contexts (the bar of the T).
What I love about this idea is that it’s given me permission to not invest as heavily in the skills that I’m just not naturally suited for.
This was the idea that really set me back in my seat. That you should put yourself into positions where your strengths are what are necessary to succeed. The blog post puts it this way:
This can work for games and sports because you can get better maneuvering yourself into positions that take advantage of your strengths as well as avoiding situations that expose your weaknesses.
I enjoy a lot of latitude at work in that I get to choose a lot of what I spend my time on. This idea is a whole new lens for me see those choices through.
Currently, I’m looking at a list of different problems that need attention and asking myself two questions: “How important is this to the team and business?”, and “How well would my skills apply here?” There are lots of really important problems to solve, and being able to sort them on this second dimension has been helpful to me as I decide what to work on next.
The blog post describes avoiding situations that expose your weaknesses, but it’s not always possible to avoid those situations. Sometimes you need to work on something not because you enjoy it, but because it’s what the team needs from you. If you do find yourself in a situation where the skills needed to succeed are your weak spots, and avoiding it isn’t a good option, then you should rely on others to support you. Work with people whose strenghts complement your weaknesses.
If you can’t avoid a bad situation, then change it.
That’s all I have to say. Again, you should consider reading the full post if any of this sounds helpful.