How To Extract Superpowers from Your Greatest Weakness

Greatest WeaknessJoel’s Note: This is a guest post from Shanna Mann.


“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

For years, my bucket list contained almost only things I thought would make me brilliant and accomplished.

I was going to get a classical education by learning Latin and Greek, reading the words of the ancients, and becoming knowledgeable in wines and European history. I would be able to talk intelligently on everything from football to philosophy.

And I would know how to:

  • Do my hair
  • Dress wonderfully
  • Pack light
  • Be prepared for anything

I feared that if I wasn’t exceptional, nobody would be interested in me. And God help me, I love to be the center of attention!

This sense of inadequacy drove me. I didn’t have to be the best, but I had to be my best. But whatever my limits were, I hadn’t found them yet.

My philosophy at its core is pure stoicism.

I need to be blooded, deeply and repeatedly, to be sure of my mettle. I seek to know the truth of myself, above all else. So I’m aware of how many of my achievements are actually my way of coping with the sense that I’m not worth much if I’m not striving.

I bring this up because websites like Value of Simple – devoted as they are to striving towards simplicity, organization, self-control, and financial independence – don’t explicitly spell this out:

You get the essence when you strip out the extraneous. But you don’t get to choose the essence.

Your Greatest Weakness Is Kinda Like Alchemy…

Greatest Weakness

There’s often this expectation that when you get down to the core of things, there’s a perfectly pure center. It’s almost like this striving is some kind of philosopher’s stone that’s going to transfer all our ugly bits to gold.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

That’s why we want to meditate, get fit, organize our lives perfectly, have a lovely house, travel, etc. We think that if we strive after these external signifiers of the person we want to be, we’ll get rid of the parts of us that are fearful, frazzled, mean, or overwhelmed.

They don’t go away.

They’re just there; like odd relatives you learn to put up with.

When people praise my systems or accomplishments, I’m happy. No matter where the impulse came from, I did work for them, and it’s good to recognize the effort and be proud of it.

But when people envy me, I worry that they miss the point. I’m still a flawed, squishy-centered, inadequate-feeling person. Probably the same as you.

I once wrote to my idol, and I said:

Where did you get the confidence? You come off as ballsy and bulletproof. What I want to know is, are you faking it as much as me?

She wrote me back and said, “I couldn’t afford a lack of confidence. There were those in my life who thought I wasn’t capable of buttering bread, so they pretty much handled the doubt thing for me. But depending on how much you’re faking it— you betcha. Probably more.”

You gotta understand, no matter how good it looks on the outside, self-doubt never stops being an issue. It just stops showing. And after a while, if you work at it, it stops mattering. You find other ways to navigate through life than by your inadequacies or greatest weakness.

…But Even Alchemists Didn’t Find the Philosopher’s Stone

I’m known for my systems: I help people build systems for business and life to keep things from falling through the cracks. The reason I’m so good at systems is because I feared success.

Success was my great weakness and always meant that things started to slip through the cracks. I could never enjoy the success I had because I was too terrified of not living up to my promises.

So I would trip myself, always riding with one foot on the brake. My systems evolved out of a need to stop navigating by reaction and a pathological fear of failing at success. (No ordinary fear of failure for me, oh, no.)

In the same way, when you start looking at what you want to change in your life, you’ll find your greatest weakness becomes your greatest strength. Joel began curating resources because he has a terrible memory. He doesn’t hate himself for it. He doesn’t berate himself for not being able to remember things; berating yourself doesn’t solve the problem.

Instead, he went about creating a series of spreadsheets to be an external memory for him. Does he wish he had a better memory? I imagine he does.

But it stopped mattering when he solved the problem.

And now, his friends, family, and community depend on him because his “Excel-lent” memory is better than almost anyone else’s meat brain. And a damn sight better organized.

Clearing away the extraneous – the waste – doesn’t make you solid gold. It makes you whatever you are but you make what you are amazing! Your weaknesses become your superpowers, and your superpowers become your bonus features.

So while personal development is a worthwhile endeavor, remember that it’s not a philosopher’s stone. You can choose to solve your problems without trying to change your essence.

Shanna Mann is a Business + Life Coach who shows solo entrepreneurs the ropes in business fundamentals tackling business golems. Check out her free course Be the Boss, a 5 module guide to effective business organization for solopreneurs.

Photo Credit: tv and origamidon

23 Responses to How To Extract Superpowers from Your Greatest Weakness

  1. cj says:

    Joel, so sorry I have not made over here til now. Thanks to Shanna and her delightful emails, here I am! This post is crazy good. Got me thinking about myself, my usual state, and I am an airhead. That is my essence. It has always been so and I fought it, got embarrassed about it, hated it, but it is me. Genes.

    Anyhow, I have learned to embrace it and make it fun. My mom once asked, while I was visiting, “Are you going to see your grandmother?” And I replied, “Who?” Because I was out in space again with guitar notes floating around my head. But everyone laughs, except my mom, and then I laugh and it’s all a ton of fun!

    • Shanna Mann says:

      Thank you!

      I’m glad you’re coming to terms with your essence. That playful side is a lot of what I love about your writing.

    • Hi CJ,

      Value of Simple has only been around a few months, so it’s not like you missed my best stuff already. I’m glad you’re here now! I agree that this post is crazy good and I’m really happy Shanna choose to let me feature it here.

      Way to embrace a “weakness” and turn it into something fun and positive. As Shanna noted in her post, I have a terrible memory, but I turn it into a source of good humor and motivation. It’s fun developing superpowers from your weaknesses.

      • cj says:

        Thanks Joel! Superpowers activated! Spaciness will really come in handy over the Holidays 😉

        • Karen J says:

          Hey, CJ ~
          It sure doesn’t “look like” you’re a space-cadet from ‘out here’! You and your lovely lady simply have an incredible amount of fun living your lives, and you both write quite engagingly about it.

          I, too, have claimed a “brain like a steel sieve” (more often in the past than I do lately), but there are still those days, yaknow?

          Turning the volume on that sparkle-brain, ADD-ish, flaky space-case voff or down has been both a challenge and a delight. Hurray for finding your Super-powers!

  2. Erin says:

    “Excel-lent.” Har, har. :)

    That’s such a great example with Joel and his spreadsheets. I wonder how often the things that fascinate us are the things that allow us to compensate for our weaknesses or even turn them into strengths. Are we drawn to the very things we need, even if we don’t realize we need them? I, for one, have always been fascinated by organization. But it wasn’t until I expanded my view of “organizing” to include the more internal side of things (and not just my physical environment) that I found the satisfaction I always thought good organization should bring. And that, in turn, helps me quiet my fear of not having it all together a little.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I think we are drawn to the things we need. That’s a phrase in the healing sphere: we teach what we most need to learn. Probably because teaching deepens our understanding of the subject matter :)

    • cj says:

      Do you have trouble leaving Office Depot (or like stores) like I do? I think paper clips and binders keep me somewhat in reality or I may float away!

    • That “Excel-lent” play on words almost made me get out of my chair and give Shanna a standing ovation. Nobody’s ever going to accuse you of lacking cleverness and metaphors Shanna.

  3. Tammy Renzi says:

    So excited to finally be here, Joel! I am now struggling with how to structure my already packed day with perusing – in the true definition of the word – your site. Delightful!

    Shanna, this line really struck me:

    We think that if we strive after these external signifiers of the person we want to be, we’ll get rid of the parts of us that are fearful, frazzled, mean, or overwhelmed.

    For many years, I added more and more to my plate and expected it not to spill over all in the name of looking good. Look at all I’m doing? Look, look, look at me! I am good, right? Holy heckers was I wrong. So I kept tipping the plate hoping nothing important would fall off. Boom, health on the floor. Pick myself up, dust myself off, and sally forth to a more focused and fulfilling life. Bit by bit. Many thanks for the guest post and for getting me on over here to Joel’s site.

    • Holy heckers I’m glad to have you stop by Tammy! I love the “holy heckers” phrase by the way. I’m going to start using that one because it suits me too.

      Please don’t be like me and try to read everything that a person has created on their blog within a couple of days when they find a new one they enjoy. I’ve thought about writing a post on what I do (and what not to do) when you discover someone giving away all their best stuff for free. It can be a challenge. Just remember that the Start Here page on this site is intended to give you the lay of the land, so take advantage of it to make your perusing easier.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I know! We all want to look good. But the motivation behind looking good is so often dark. I’m glad you’ve seen the light. Enjoy Joel’s awesome site.

  4. I just want to extend a public thanks to Shanna for a great guest post. I’m happy to have you as a friend and beyond pleased with the work you’ve allowed me to share with the Value of Simple community. Thank you!

  5. It does become about crafting a value system as opposed to completing a to-do list. Unfortunately for most of us, it is easier to default to the to-do list. I am reading a book on Benjamin Franklin now and he too was striving to live a virtuous life. He accomplished a great deal that included being a good craftsman, scientist, neighbor, husband and citizen. It is no different today, we want to excel in all that we touch but sometime we need to ask ourselves whether what we strive to accomplish is worth doing. Thanks Shanna for your thought provoking words.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I actually really like Ben Franklin’s technique of focusing on each virtue for a month. I think that’s a good way to go about it, because with a little forethought, you can trigger thinking about values as opposed to just checking stuff of a list. It’s hard work, but so valuable.

  6. Sarah says:

    Shanna, you’re freakin’ brilliant. I love the vulnerability and the sheer truth of this post. It all makes sense now.

  7. Hey Joel, sorry to have taken so long to get over to your site, after seeing all your comments on Remade by Hand and others! Great site; thank you so much for your hard work here!

    Shanna, beautiful post. Thank you so much for your blunt honesty. You’ve really given me a lot to think about tonight. :)

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