I saw an interesting debate on Twitter recently between two guys who were debating whather it was better to focus on one's strengths and leverage them for results, or whether it was better to shore up weaknesses and become more well rounded.
The conversation caught my attention because it really is a common situation people find themselves in, and most people tend to focus exclusively on one side or the other. But just like the idiom "Work smart, not hard", you might ask yourself why not just do both?
The way I see it, your primary output should come from your strengths. I coach people because I have a lot of experience with understanding people and giving advice, and I'm now very good at it. I would never have done it 10-15 years ago when it wasn't an absolute strength.
At the same time, it's important to realize that your greatest strengths are actually the combination of several strengths, just as a dish you eat is good because of the combination of ingredients more than any one ingredient individually. So the way that you create a valuable and defensible strength is by building up weaknesses until you have a combination of strengths.
For example, I am not the most knowledgeable person about cruises, but I'm pretty good and I love them. I'm nowhere near the best programmer, but I'm proficient. I'm pretty good at automating processes, but not amazing. But combine those three things and I have built what I think is obviously the best cruise site as a direct product of those three skills.
If you focus too much on your strengths you can easily become one-dimensional and you are subject to in incredible amount of competition. If you're the best programmer at a certain language, how long will it really take for someone to overcome you? Eventually you may even fall below average as more people learn the language and it evolves without you.
However, it is equally dangerous to focus on your weaknesses. I made this mistake in my twenties, where as soon as I became passable at something it would lose my interest and I would start learning something else. Eventually I found myself in a position where I had a lot of interesting superficial skills, but no combination of them was strong enough to be marketable.
Realizing the error of my ways I focused on programming, writing, interpersonal skills, and productivity. Now I can combine those in various ways to make a good living.
Once you create a good web of strengths, you have the luxury of focusing on your weaknesses as much as you like. You may even find that some of those weaknesses aren't the impediments that they seemed to be. For example, I used to be so focused on using every minute of my time at maximum productivity, because it felt like the only way I could make progress. Now that I have a more robust set of strengths, I don't need to be working the 12-14 hours I used to work.
If none of your strengths are to the point where they are bearing fruit, focus on building them up or leveraging them. They may be good enough, especially combined, and maybe you just don't have the confidence to put them to use. If you fail to do that, pick one interest that's likely to get results and focus on it.
On the other hand, if your strengths are working for you and you're feeling like you're stagnating, look at shoring up weaknesses or developing new skills.
Photo is my desk. It's rarely this clean and organized.
Something I wrestle with from time to time is whether to focus on my strengths or my weaknesses. On one hand, weaknesses often represent the lowest hanging fruit. If I'm really bad at, say, programming, a small amount of effort can radically increase my abilities. If I was excellent at programming, that same amount of effort would produce negligible results. On the other hand, time spent by a skilled programmer will create usable work, whereas time spent as a poor programmer probably won't produce anything useful.
An interesting thing to consider is that where you spend your time will define who you are as a person. A person who spends all of his time on his strengths will be a very narrowly focused person. He gets good at something and keeps hammering away at it until he's an expert. He who spends time focusing on his weaknesses will have a very broad focus. He'll be fairly good at lots of little things, but not a true expert in any.
So which is better? Well, despite the impression I give in a lot of my writing, not everything has to be extreme. This is one of those cases where an optimal path may lie somewhere in the middle.
For most of my life I've been way on the side of working on my weaknesses. I was terrible with girls, so I became a pickup artist (but quit before I got as good as people like Mystery, Style, Tyler, etc.). I made no money, so I became a professional gambler. Even though I spoke passable Spanish and Chinese, I switched to learning Japanese. I had never traveled, so I spent a year going everywhere. Whenever I saw a big weakness, I would dive into it head on. Once I cross that "decent" threshhold, I'd back off and start something new.
It's all about leverage.
Here's the deal: everyone, through unique life experiences, has their own unique sets of skills, strengths and talents.
But more importantly, you have a unique combination of those sets of skills.
If you find you have a talent for writing, the first thing you're going to figure is "Hey, maybe I should do something where I get paid to write!"
Congratulations, you're already a step ahead of the curve.