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Friday, June 3, 2011

Damn, why can't I play the ukulele?

I want to be good at everything and I end up kicking myself unnecessarily for not knowing how to do more stuff.

I don't think I'm alone in this.

The other day, after a long stretch of working on HaitiHub business and teaching Creole classes, I headed home.  On the way to my apartment, I passed the instrument repair shop on the corner of my street.  Seated outside were three people all jamming together on ukuleles and I thought, "Man, I really should know how to jam on the ukulele."

Really, self?  Are you serious?  You should know how to play the ukulele?  You've been negligent, have you, in not learning to solo on Hawaii's tiny guitar?

And the answer from my more rational self, of course, is no.  I haven't been negligent.  I just have this urge (that grows out of a kind of insecurity) to be good at everything.

I just started reading this crazy book called The 4 Hour Work Week.  In an early chapter, the author, Tim Ferris, writes:

“Emphasize Strengths, Don't Fix Weaknesses.

Most people are good at a handful of things and utterly miserable at most.  I am great at product creation and marketing but terrible at most of the things that follow.  My body is designed to lift heavy objects and throw them, and that's it.  I ignored this for a long time.  I tried swimming and looked like a drowning monkey.  I tried basketball and looked like a caveman.  Then I became a fighter and took off.  It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor.  The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre.  Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.”
This strikes me as really good advice.  I'm going to start following it and hope to go further faster by doubling down on what I'm good at.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't work on weaknesses at all.  While it's probably a very productive idea to stop stressing about ukuleles, it's extremely important to work continually on weaknesses around discipline, empathy, patience, goal-setting, the biggest things.

And I'm also not saying that I should never learn to play the ukulele.  I think it's an awesome instrument and a beautiful sound.  But if I ever take it up one day, it should be with a sense of joy, not a sense of obligation, inadequacy, or oneupmanship.

So go with strengths.

I'll go first:

I'm really good at managing an online classroom for Haitian Creole students and creating a supportive learning environment.  And I'm really good at creating group identities.

What are you really good at?