Leveraging Your Strengths

Today’s intern training session touched on my company’s philosophy that it is “impossible to turn a weaknesses into a strength.” It seemed counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t every company want to turn each employee’s weaknesses into strengths?

But, then, in that rare flash of insight I am rarely prone to, realized it was about ROI — Return on Investment.

Rather than having employees spend excessive amounts of time trying to turn a fear of public speaking into a Broadway actor’s stage presence, companies would rather have them reach an acceptable level of public speaking competency. The return on investment for reaching perfection for a weakness just isn’t worth it.

I would argue that the most successful (and happiest) Harvard students are those who leverage those strengths.

1) You’re an Einstein at something

Chances are, if you got into Harvard, you have a few strengths of your own, be it art, theater, math, science. The key to adjusting to Harvard’s pressure cooker environment filled with geniuses in various dimensions is to remember, that you are a genius in a field of your own right.

Most people like doing what they’re good at. If you were a theater geek in high school, join theater on campus. It’ll make you happier that you’re doing something familiar while you’re balancing the rigors of academics.

2) Fast advancement

If you’re looking to move up the ranks quickly, pick organizations that you are already familiar with in the past. For instance, if you’re a wiz at design, you’ll move up fast to design chair in a number of publications within a semester or two.

Because it’s easy to get frustrated by starting at the bottom again at college, it’s good to try out a few things that you are already familiar with and can easily pick up. (This, of course, is not advice for you to only do things you’re familiar with.)

3) Let your friends know

No one needs another person bragging about her chess skills at Harvard. But, you do need to let your friends know what your strengths are, so if they come across an opportunity you might like, they’ll forward it onto you.

While “bragging” — volunteering to help others, asking others to be on the look out for certain opportunities — does not always (but could) translate into new opportunities, it builds your reputation as being that go-to girl/boy for XYZ problems in your friend group.

For instance, I did a fair amount of writing back in my day. (Haha.) I would bug people to do Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) with me, and eventually, one day, a friend of mine asked me to read over his essay. It was solid in terms of mechanics, but I highlighted how he could have approached the prompt in a much more interesting and effective way. In other words, it was a meta/purpose/point problem. I was flattered he asked me, and had a ball wrestling with it.

Establishing that flow of information to and from your friends/acquaintances is probably the most important form of intangible communication on campus (and the real world). These are the people who will be your eyes and ears in the greater community, the people who will vouch for you, recommend you, and send you new gigs they’ve heard about.

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