After Hours

10 ways to deal with a personal or professional weakness

If some issue or trait is holding you back, you don't have to resign yourself to it. Here's practical advice for taking steps to overcome whatever hurdles are standing in your way.

Most of us have some professional or personal weakness that keeps us from advancing or developing as much as we could or would like. In my case, for example, my knowledge of the Chinese language is far from where I would like it to be. Others, of course, will have different examples. But regardless of the exact nature of the weakness, the following tips can help you overcome or reduce it.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Admit that it exists

As with alcohol or drug issues (and I am certainly not suggesting that you have either or both), recognition of the issue is key toward addressing it. Unless this recognition occurs, progress rarely, if ever, can occur. Conversely, once this recognition occurs, progress can begin.

2: Be specific

Be as specific as you can with your issue. In my case, for example, "Issues with Chinese language" is too vague. More specific issues could include "Issues in knowing the traditional counterpart of the simplified character and vice versa" or "Knowing how to write the character by hand when I hear it." So let's say you believe you have an issue with impatience. You could be more specific and say, "I'm impatient when I get phone calls from users who lost data." The more specific you are the more effective will be your actions to address the issue.

3: Set quantifiable goals

Rather than just say, "I want to improve in this area," set a quantifiable goal. Otherwise, you will never be able to tell how much progress you have made. Worse, you will despair because you will never seem to have made any progress at all.

For instance, to increase my comprehension of Chinese characters, I need to be specific and say, "By the end of November, I want to be able to read, without consulting a dictionary, at least 90% of the characters in the poem 'youziyin.'" If your goal is to be less impatient with users, perhaps you could say, "This week, I don't want to become impatient more than x times with users who lost data."

4: Seek advice and guidance from others

Remember that gag you used to play when you were younger -- the one where you put a Post-it note that said "Kick me" on someone's back? That poor victim couldn't see the note, but everyone else could. In other words, that person had a blind spot.

You have similar blind spots. Even though you recognize the issue, you still might be affected by it in ways that others recognize but you don't. So ask people you know and trust to give you their insights. When they do, try not to be upset -- assuming, of course, that they speak in good faith and are attempting to help. As an old saying goes, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted."

5: Assess yourself regularly

If you never check the oil in your car, don't be surprised when your engine melts one day because the oil level is too low. If you ignore that lump or fever or other symptom in your body, don't be surprised if one day you get bad news from your doctor. If you keep opening app after app, don't be surprised when you eventually get that "insufficient memory" message.

To make progress, you need to monitor yourself against those objectives you set. If you are proceeding according to plan, congratulate yourself. Otherwise, you need to assess what factors are hindering you and make adjustments.

6: Put yourself in situations where you have had problems before

If you are learning to ride a bicycle and never remove the training wheels, you will never really learn to ride. If you constantly have an interpreter with you in your meetings in China, you will never really learn to understand, speak, or write the language. You need to remove the training wheels -- or be in a position where you must know, speak, or write another language simply to survive.

In other words, you must confront the circumstances in which your weakness is an issue. Only then can you do the self-assessment discussed earlier. In our example of impatience, you need to place yourself in the position of taking those calls. But this time, focus on avoiding the impatient reaction.

7: Keep a journal

By keeping a journal or some similar record, you can reflect on the progress you have made and the progress you still must make. In addition, a journal can help you address other weaknesses and areas for improvement.

8: Forget the past

I have found the saying "Too soon old, too late smart" to be all too true. Of course, my mother was right: I really should have done more in studying Chinese when I was young. No amount of reflection, though, can change the past. Therefore, using the philosophy of "Better late than never," I simply work on my language skills to improve them day by day. Holding regrets about the past does nothing for me. Rather than berate yourself for past mistakes, focus on improving yourself for the future.

9: Realize that progress might take time

Rome was not built in a single day. Neither will you overcome your weakness in one day or perhaps even in one week. Habits and traits take time to become ingrained and can take time to be undone. Be aggressive in your goals but be realistic as well.

10. Seek small victories

An old Japanese proverb tells us that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Likewise, the old joke tells us that the way to eat an elephant is to do so one bite at a time. Break down your plan into smaller segments with their own sub-objectives. As you gain victory in these small areas, you will be encouraged and emboldened to continue your mission.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

7 comments
ahmed.ayyash
ahmed.ayyash

amazed that some points you managed to miss on the "learning chinese" example that carried on to the point that one would argue that this is more of a personal blog entry. otherwise valid points

W.E.
W.E.

I've been a member of T.R. for some twelve years, and these few articles that help us improve ourselves as PEOPLE, able to deal with, cope with, and survive it in one piece and move forward, is what will see us trough. So few things give us prospective and "balance". This was great. If you would like to read an american perspective, read Bob Parsons (Godaddy) 16 rules.

jacobus57
jacobus57

...is not a weakness, it is a knowledge deficit--and there is a huge difference between a weakness and a deficit. A weakness is something like procrastination, anger issues, being unreliable. Dealing with such things is very different from setting a goal to read ninety percent of a poem without a dictionary, because weaknesses tend to be deeply-rooted and very difficult to manage and change. I really don't see the point of this article, or rather (because one of my ISSUES is being hyper-critical ;-)), I believe it is poorly titled. It should have been called something like "How to Set and Meet Professional and Personal LEARNING Goals," or "Setting and Attaining Professional Development Goals."

dinotech
dinotech

She usually deals with articles such as this. While the points are valid, the example does reflect more of a personal blog answer. I expected more: such as examples of employees that have over come issues like being late, being disorganized. If Toni is reading this, I would like to see her deal with this issue. It is huge, especially in this economy.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have a problem controlling my temper around some people. Several steps here may be able to help me with that problem. Putting myself in those situations, making a plan when I know I'm going to be in them, keeping a record of incidents and progress.

szwdv
szwdv

I too find the learning chinese example not as suiting for this topic title...it's like saying my weakness is I'm not a rocket scientist. But the tips are still useful for achieving personal goals whether it be learning or confronting actual weakness (ex. shyness).