The funny thing about professional weaknesses is how much we are supposed to believe that, with the right combination of management books and shimmering (but not aggressive) self-confidence, we will be able to overcome all of them. The narrative of professional success is often one of climbing mountains, jumping hurdles, and ending up feeling totally comfortable and at peace with one’s role. We may not be able to master every domain, but the workplace should feel like the one thing we can truly conquer, so that we can focus on keeping everything else together.
But we know that often isn’t true in practice. The path to being a fulfilled and confident professional is never a linear one, and those glamorous CEOs writing endless books about how to be more like them are almost certainly not without flaws themselves. (How many super-visible businesspeople churn out books and speaking tours and panels, only to be embroiled in scandal or bankruptcy just a few months or years later?)
Either way, the first step for everyone is, at the very least, knowing and actively working on one’s biggest professional weaknesses. For me, my severe impatience combined with my tendency to be rather acerbic and cutting (usually in jest, but not always) means I can be straight-up difficult to work with. I would always rather do something myself than patiently walk someone through the process, and my desire to cut to the chase on things can make me seem blunt and uncaring. But I know that I am a caring person — particularly about the teams I work intimately with — so I know that it is my job to convey that, and to take responsibility for the personality flaws that lead people to feel otherwise. I’m still working on a perfect solution, but for now my biggest strategies are to listen more, be more calm and measured when I respond, and to force myself not to respond immediately if I’m feeling short or frustrated. Oh, and apologize when I know I’m being an ass.
To find out more about professional weaknesses and how we deal with them, I put the question out to TFD readers, and these are some of the most interesting answers I got.
“I’m just not a morning person, and it basically means that even though I do technically get up and get to work on time, I am just completely dead when it comes to any kind of social-ness in the first three hours at the office, which is terrible because my job involves tons of meetings. I wish I had a more intelligent or inspiring way of working through this, but my solution really involves three things: forcing myself to go to bed no later than 10 PM (I sometimes take medication to help), keeping my alarm in the other room so I have to seriously wake myself up in order to turn it off, and making a pot of espresso the night before which I take down cold like a shot first thing in the morning. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works for now.” – Jamie
“I know it probably seems like a cliché, but I think my biggest weakness in a professional setting is a complete lack of faith in my own abilities. I mean, I know I can do it – I just think that everyone else I know doesn’t think that… (Because their standards are higher, or something? I don’t know.) Every time I see I have an email from a work person, I am scared to open it because I assume it’s going to be telling me that I am fired from the next gig, or that my pay is being cut because they weren’t happy with this, or with that. Why wouldn’t it be that, right? It’s not like people email me anything else, after all…
Except, they do! this is a pretty brutal industry I’m in, so there are always some issues — but generally speaking, in the circles I work in at least, people do seem happy with the work I do. I don’t get fired from tours, I do get repeat bookings and recommendations… And yet I can’t ever seem to shake this feeling that my career is somehow living on ‘borrowed time’, and that any day now I’ll get the email or the phone call telling me that I’ll never work again and I have to get a job in a Kwik Fit.
I have occasionally attempted to analyze why this is — although never with any particularly satisfactory conclusion. The closest I can get is that it stems from never having gone to university, and therefore feeling perpetually under-qualified (ie. not good enough) — especially considering that I come from a very high-achieving family, and am the only person in my family for three generations not to have a degree. I am not sure that fully explains the whole phenomenon, though!
Anyway, I often worry that this issue can lead me to act a bit strangely around people. In a sector where ‘networking’ is key, and there is no formal route ‘in’, I am concerned that this could be holding me back. Ironically, worrying that I won’t get offered more work could be the one thing that’s stopping me being offered more work!” – Kit
“I am someone who cannot advocate for myself, which I know reading TFD is a huge sin and something I have to get over. But I have a really hard time demonstrating my achievements, asking for raises or promotions, or even just asserting myself within my team structure. I’m the person who people will know will stay late to finish something, or do a little extra work on a project, and never want to be recognized for it. But I do want to be recognized, I just feel like I’m somehow being ‘greedy’ for simply getting what is deserved. My new strategy to combat this is keeping a list as I go in Google Docs of the times I went ‘above and beyond’ in my work, and compiling them for my yearly review with my bosses. It’s coming up in April, and I feel both well-informed in detail of what I did, and what I am deserving to ask for. It’s not a slam dunk, but I feel so much better prepared and confident than any other year, because it’s all written in black-and-white in front of my eyes.” – Lola
“For me, it’s definitely a recurring lack of self-confidence. At some point in my life I decided I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, so I stopped speaking up in class and later constantly doubted my abilities at work. A few things got me out of it. First, a couple of mentors, in college and at my current job, pointed out to me that I was being ridiculous. I also faced my fears the old-fashioned way: working a string of sales jobs, culminating at a large winery’s shop/tasting room when I was 22. I love wine and loved geeking out about wine with clients, so much that I stopped feeling self-conscious about my age and inexperience. And now I work as a recruiter, so my old self-doubt can suck it.” – Lauren
“I am just not a type-A person. I have a really hard time keeping track of small details and numbers, and I feel like most jobs basically state outright that one of the most important qualities is being ‘detail-oriented.’ That is just not me. I constantly find myself bewildered by my coworkers who seem to have it together when it comes to spreadsheets and follow-ups and minutia. My solution so far (and it’s mostly working!) is to just set a million zillion reminders for myself every day. Like I’m not joking, my calendar looks absolutely insane — I have reminders for things all the way down to ’email so-and-so-about-x,’ about an email I literally received the day before. It’s basically me forcing myself to stay on top of things, and it’s annoying, but it works.” – Katie
“My biggest weakness in the workplace is probably my inability to take criticism. I am one of those people who really takes all criticism as a personal attack, even when I 100% know that this is just part of having any job. I have many times simply broken down and cried in the office (in the bathroom in private, of course) after what was objectively a pretty mild critique on some aspect of my work. I’ve always been a very insecure person, and it’s really hard for me to not see any kind of negative feedback on my work as some kind of extension of myself.
So I have seen a therapist off and on for about a year for this issue, and one of the biggest things she taught me was this: Listen, thank them for taking the time to give feedback, and before I do anything else, go for a little walk, or simply listen to some calming music. Give myself at least 10-15 minutes of just processing and being calm before I react — no defending myself, no excuses, no running away to cry. ‘Stand in the criticism and realize it’s not so scary,’ she tells me.” – Alex
“I’d say my biggest professional weakness is this concept many call ‘imposter syndrome,’ or a distorted way of thinking about myself that I believe many women face from time to time. Basically, it’s this sneaky feeling that I have somehow tricked people at work into thinking that I know what I’m doing.For example, I’m currently interviewing for a job that I believe I am unqualified for (and I very well might be), and I’ve been thinking about the prospect of, what if my friend who recommended me for the position and subsequently, the hiring manager, “finds me out,” i.e., figures out that I’m a fraud.
The way I deal with it is by telling myself that many people deal with some form of this, and/or that it’s all in my head, reminding myself of my strengths or positive feedback I’ve received. The best way to deal with it probably is by going to therapy, honestly!” – Chloe
“My biggest professional weakness is that, despite pretty much every job advert I’ve ever seen (and every office job I’ve worked at) requiring applicants to ‘work well as a team,’ I actually work better on my own. School group projects? Basically my worst nightmare. It’s not that I *cant* work as a team. I can. I’m just so much more productive when I’m in control of an entire project and don’t have to either rely on other people or delegate work to others who may not have the same ‘vision’ (wow, I’m starting to sound like a real control freak!) I dealt with this by branching out on my own when my previous job didn’t work out, and I’m now a freelance writer, social media consultant, and digital PR. I get to see projects through from start to finish, and I love it.” – Beverley
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