I once had a manager who, to be honest, was a bit full of himself. The work we did was challenging. It was sales which, as we know, involves performance goals that are not always within our ability to control.
The company paid salespeople strictly on commissions. There was no base pay, so as a salesperson if you did not perform well, you didn’t make much. The high-pressure environment and commission based income led to high turnover.
My manager worked hard, and he did very well for himself. There were plenty of reasons for him to be confident in his role and with his success. But he was more than confident, he was cocky.
I remember distinctly something he said when a fellow salesperson decided to quit. This salesperson had swum competitively in high school and had then been asked to coach a competitive swim team.
He loved swimming and had always dreamed of coaching. As he was returning to school in the fall to study law, he was forced to decide between coaching the swim team and continuing his sales job at the company.
In the end, he decided to follow his passion and become a coach. Of this decision, my manager said, “Some people just can’t hack it, so they look for an excuse to quit.”
The quick reaction of my manager to judge this man as weak, simply for deciding that he no longer wanted to be a salesperson, has stuck with me for a long time.
In our culture, this type of judgment is common. People assume that others aren’t as good as them, because they don’t excel at the same things or because they choose a different path.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone as weak, incapable or ‘not cut from the right clothe’ simply because they choose to pursue other interests.
In an attempt to live intentionally, I want to suspend judgment of others and give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to be happy for others in the paths they take for themselves, even if they are different than my own.
Below, I’ve shared some thoughts on how to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and others, and how that appraisal can help us suspend judgment.
What is a Skill
Years ago, I read a Gallup book called Strengths Finder that described an intense study of the key strengths of successful people. It also provided a test for the reader to determine what their own strengths.
One of the main principles of the book was that in order to succeed in life, you should focus the majority of your time doing things that are your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses.
It was an interesting approach. What I found most useful from the book, was the guidance it provided in determining your own strengths.
It listed two key characteristics that must exist in order for a skill to be considered a strength: (1) your ability to do the skill and (2) whether performing the skill energized you or drained you.
Are You Good at It?
This is a fairly simple question, with a fairly simple answer. The risk we run is in thinking that we must be good at a skill the first time we try it if it is to be considered a strength.
I don’t believe that is the case. If you are not naturally inclined to perform a skill well, you can spend time improving upon that skill, until you are good at it.
The effort you are willing to put into mastering a skill is derived, in part, by the second characteristic of a strength.
Does It Give You Energy?
It is certainly possible to be good at a skill, while simultaneously abhorring the performance of it. If a skill doesn’t give you energy, then its probably not a strength, and you probably don’t want to spend your life working at it.
Rather, you should focus your time and energy on things that do bring you energy. When I write, I feel good. It takes a lot of mental energy and some determination to keep writing, but when I do it, I am always glad I did.
I also feel good when I speak in public. This might sound crazy to some people, but it gives me a bit of a high. Whether I’m teaching a small class or presenting in front of an audience of a thousand people, it makes me feel good.
In fact, to some extent, I think I’m more comfortable talking to a thousand people than I am talking to one person. I know I’m crazy.
At the same time, there are things I’m probably good at but hate doing; such as sales, interviewing, and crucial conversations.
Choosing to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses can help us be confident and find success. We should also allow others to focus on their strengths, and forgive them for their weaknesses.
The other thing I’ve taken from Strengths Finder’s definition of a strength is the ability to look at others and realize that it’s alright for them to have their own strengths – which is the reason I’ve shared the definition here.
If we can look inside ourselves and see that there are things we’re good at and things we’re bad at, it makes it easier for us to see that others also have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Judging others based on our own context of the situation is not only damaging to others, its damaging to us. Surely, the stories we tell about others and their decisions, are the same stories we inevitably tell about ourselves.
We should grant others the right to decide what their strengths are and cheer them on as they pursue them.
So, the next time we encounter any of the example situations listed below, maybe we can for the moment suspend judgment.
You know someone who has recently quit or been fired from their job, and you wonder why it is that they can’t maintain steady employment.
You see someone in the gym who is clearly wasting their time because they don’t push themselves in any of the workouts they are doing. Or, you see someone who you believe is just trying to get others to notice them, rather than focusing on their workout.
You have a friend or family member who is always talking about their goals and what they hope to accomplish, but you can see that they aren’t taking any steps towards making them happen.
Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not. – John Lubbock
The colleague from my earlier story, the one who quit to become a swim coach, turned out just fine. In fact, he coached throughout the remainder of his time in school and is now an attorney.
I guarantee that he is happier now as an attorney, than he would have been had he continued as a salesperson. I don’t know if he still coaches swimming, but I’m sure his experience as a coach was fulfilling for him.
We spend far too much time thinking about the weaknesses of others, rather than seeing their strengths. Wouldn’t it be better if we all acknowledged that everyone has their own strengths and encouraged them to find and pursues those strengths?
When faced with an opportunity to judge someone, let’s suspend that judgment and see them for who they truly are.
I hope this was helpful for you in some way. If so, please comment below. Thanks.
Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.