What’s your biggest weakness? Things around us change and we each grow and change too.

Skills are things we can learn and practice. Getting good at a skill requires a lot of time. Maybe you know someone who seems naturally gifted with basketball, or learning new languages, or math. What usually goes unnoticed and forgotten are all the years of practice that are needed to become naturally gifted.

Now you might say, “But wait a minute, I really do know somebody who never played a violin before and after just a few lessons was playing like someone with years of experience.” Okay, I’ll grant that there could really be exceptional cases. But what’s more likely is that violin master player grew up listening and surrounded by other types of music. Or something that could transfer.

Our minds work with relationships. Building connections between neurons. The more connections we have, the easier it is to apply those connections to other similar areas. This is probably why our education system focuses so much on fundamental topics. The idea is to provide a strong foundation to build new skills. Sometimes we build skills without even realizing it. For example, when playing games as children, we’re not just having fun. We’re building social skills, physical dexterity, anticipating what other people will do, and many other skills.

Most of the time though, when we think about learning a new skill, it’s because we want to get better at something. In other words, we want to improve a weakness. I highly encourage you to constantly improve your skills. Make sure that you do something each day to get better at something. Just realize that you have choices about what to improve. Should you improve on something that you’re already good at? Or should you search out your biggest weakness to improve?

The answer, really, is that it depends. You need to predict your future needs. And history has shown that we’re not really that good about predicting the future.

You could cheat a bit. In a good way. Find somebody that’s already done something similar to what you want to do or is already in a similar position to where you want to be. Then commit to becoming more like that person. Focus on the qualities instead of the specific steps or the route taken by the other person. Be careful about working on skills that change too quickly. You don’t want to find yourself a master years from now at a skill that no longer matters. That’s why the qualities are so important because these are your foundation.

Pick any discipline and you’ll find that things change over time. New inventions and new techniques become normal and accepted. In order to stay relevant, you’ll have to adapt.

But a bigger change can come about as your responsibility changes through life. Things that used to serve you well become either outdated or unneeded as you progress. These things can be either learned skills like I’ve been describing today or behavior tendencies like what I described last week.

Let’s say that you start out as a bright young engineer with a new product idea. Your technical skills in design and manufacturing got you this far. But then you quickly realize that you don’t know the first thing about marketing, sales, or running a company. These are all learned skills and any one of them could easily be identified as your biggest weakness. You have a choice. Do you choose to continue becoming an even better engineer? Maybe there’s a promising new manufacturing technique that you’d like to learn more about. Or do you stop that strength where it is and start working on a new skill. A skill that at first, you’ll be really bad at. Hey, that’s why it was your biggest weakness, right?

I don’t have an absolute answer for you. My general recommendation is to continue with what you’re already good at. Unless, of course, what you’re good at doesn’t apply anymore. If it’s completely outdated and nobody will ever need that skill again or if you make a conscious decision to change your priorities, then continuing down the same path is just letting yourself fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy.

Listen to the episode to find out more about the sunk-cost fallacy as well as what I consider to be the most important skill of all. Or read further for the full transcript below.

Transcript

I want to talk about another type of weakness this week and then put it all together.

Skills. These are things we can learn and practice. Getting good at a skill requires a lot of time. Maybe you know someone who seems naturally gifted with basketball, or learning new languages, or math. What usually goes unnoticed and forgotten are all the years of practice that are needed to become naturally gifted.

Now you might say, “But wait a minute, I really do know somebody who never played a violin before and after just a few lessons was playing like someone with years of experience.”

Okay, I’ll grant that there could really be exceptional cases. But what’s more likely is that violin master player grew up listening and surrounded by other types of music. Or something that could transfer.

Our minds work with relationships. Building connections between neurons. The more connections we have, the easier it is to apply those connections to other similar areas. This is probably why our education system focuses so much on fundamental topics. The idea is to provide a strong foundation to build new skills.

Sometimes we build skills without even realizing it. For example, when playing games as children, we’re not just having fun. We’re building social skills, physical dexterity, anticipating what other people will do, and many other skills.

Most of the time though, when we think about learning a new skill, it’s because we want to get better at something. In other words, we want to improve a weakness. I highly encourage you to constantly improve your skills. Make sure that you do something each day to get better at something.

Just realize that you have choices about what to improve. Should you improve on something that you’re already good at? Or should you search out your biggest weakness to improve? The answer, really, is that it depends. You need to predict your future needs. And history has shown that we’re not really that good about predicting the future. You could cheat a bit. In a good way.

Find somebody that’s already done something similar to what you want to do or is already in a similar position to where you want to be. Then commit to becoming more like that person. Focus on the qualities instead of the specific steps or the route taken by the other person. Be careful about working on skills that change too quickly. You don’t want to find yourself a master years from now at a skill that no longer matters. That’s why the qualities are so important because these are your foundation.

I’ll describe more about skills and weaknesses right after this message from our sponsor.

You might wonder why I teach C++ so much to beginner programmers. It’s related to today’s topic. In order to become a professional programmer, you’ll want to eventually learn multiple languages. Some people focus on what language can be learned fastest and say that’s the best way to begin programming. I tend to take a longer view approach and ask which language will give you the best foundation to make learning future languages easier. It seems to me that C++ is a great way to build up transferrable skills. Skills that will help you branch out and become that overnight success later. At the same time, though, I do my best to make learning C++ easy and fun. That’s why we build games. If you want to spend a full 5 days with me to go from absolute beginner to learning all about building your own graphical side-scroller computer game, then text gameweek as a single word to the short number 44222.

Okay, back to skills. We all have a limited time in this life and I’ll tell you what, it’s a race. A long race, hopefully. But in many ways, it’s also a short race. We only have so much time and learning one skill usually means you can’t also be learning a different skill. This is why focusing on your weaknesses is usually not a good idea. You might make them a little better but that time would have probably been better spent making yourself even better at something you’re already quite good at.

In society, we tend not to notice the normal people. It’s the oddballs that stand out. All you have to do is choose what skills you want to focus on and then let yourself really excel at those. You’ll eventually become somebody worth noticing.

Pick any discipline and you’ll find that things change over time. New inventions and new techniques become normal and accepted. In order to stay relevant, you’ll have to adapt.

But a bigger change can come about as your responsibility changes through life. Things that used to serve you well become either outdated or unneeded as you progress. These things can be either learned skills like I’ve been describing today or behavior tendencies like what I described last week.

Let’s say that you start out as a bright young engineer with a new product idea. Your technical skills in design and manufacturing got you this far. But then you quickly realize that you don’t know the first thing about marketing, sales, or running a company. These are all learned skills and any one of them could easily be identified as your biggest weakness. You have a choice. Do you choose to continue becoming an even better engineer? Maybe there’s a promising new manufacturing technique that you’d like to learn more about. Or do you stop that strength where it is and start working on a new skill. A skill that at first, you’ll be really bad at. Hey, that’s why it was your biggest weakness, right?

I don’t have an absolute answer for you. My general recommendation is to continue with what you’re already good at. Unless, of course, what you’re good at doesn’t apply anymore. If it’s completely outdated and nobody will ever need that skill again or if you make a conscious decision to change your priorities, then continuing down the same path is just letting yourself fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy.

What’s the sunk-cost fallacy? That’s when we let things from our past determine our future. I generally recommend focusing on things you’re already good at because you’ll likely find them useful in the future. But this thinking is common and hard to spot. If you ever find yourself continuing with something because you need to “get you money’s worth,” then you might be deep in sunk-cost fallacy thinking.

Let me ask you this. Let’s say that you’re on your way to visit with your best friend and you’re almost there after driving or walking for the last hour. Then you remember that your friend is out of town this week. You completely forgot. But you’ve already spent so much effort. Do you continue to your friend’s house even though you know it’s a waste of time? Or do you turn around?

Most of us would turn around. That’s an easy case. What if you just spent 4 years in college and now have a degree but realize that you really don’t like doing that type of work anymore? Now what do you do? Well, it’s a lot more common to go ahead and get a job anyway that you don’t like. Why? This is because of the time, effort, and money you’ve already spent on college. If you continue, then you’ll be letting past events dictate your future.

I’m going to end what’s becoming a long episode with one last skill. This one could be the most important one of all. This is ability that some people have to wake up and live a life of conscious choice. To really live in the moment and use that to make the best decisions that will affect the future. Because the past is already gone. So many people are asleep at life though. Going through day after day just reacting like a plane on autopilot. When you find yourself reacting to a situation, wake up, take notice and ask if this is a tendency or behavior you want to keep or change. If this is a skill you will need again or can now focus on something else. Only then will you be able to answer what your biggest weakness really is.