I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase a million times.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t embrace it wholeheartedly.
I understand the message behind it. With a little sweat, grit and passion, we can accomplish much more than we might imagine. If we give up too easily, or fail to take full ownership of our dreams and goals, we may always fall short.
Still, the fact is, none of us can do anything we want to do. We all have limits. Weaknesses.
But in our society, “weakness” is a four-letter word, a distasteful burden we must strive to fix, eliminate or conceal at all cost.
To use the square peg/round hole analogy, our square edges prevent us from fitting into standard round holes, so those square edges become weaknesses to be sheared off and sandpapered down.
I myself spent a good part of my career trying to force my square edges to fit neatly into round holes. I had adopted the belief that, if I wanted to survive, much less succeed, I had to conform to round hole specifications. So I dedicated untold amounts of energy and effort trying to “fix” what was wrong with me.
I had a lot of help, too. In the office, well-meaning supervisors invested extra time and effort to my transformation. Goals and objectives, performance reviews, regular check-ins all became part of the strategy to turn me into a well-oiled, highly productive cog in the organizational machine. They were motivated to do this, at least initially, because of the untapped potential they saw in me. All that talent could be unleashed if we followed the plan to whittle away my square edges.
I welcomed this investment, at least initially, because I, too, believed that the key to my success, the answer to my career struggles and setbacks, involved forcing my weaknesses, my limits, into submission. The longer I failed to accomplish this goal, I feared, the deeper into the pit of mediocrity I would sink.
So I continuously sought after and accepted round hole positions. And with each new position and supervisory intervention, I prayed that this time I would finally conquer those weaknesses, bend them to my will, and thus earn my ticket into the kingdom of round holes where, finally, I could legitimately join the ranks of those whose abilities, skills and accomplishments—whose worth—remained unquestioned.
I always started out with good intentions and great hope, but at some point I would find myself bumping and crashing against my limits. Motivation turned to disappointment, frustration and a deep-seated puzzlement: I obviously had talent and brains—why then could I not consistently perform up to standard? I either could not or would not do what needed to be done to fit into that round hole. Mission failed.
And for me, every failed mission struck with the force of a hit-and-run, leaving me to pick up the broken pieces of my self scattered over the ground, questioning my self-worth and my abilities, and struggling to find the energy to start all over again.
But that’s what happens when you try to build a career that relies too heavily on whittling down square edges, on exorcising weaknesses. It’s like trying to live in a house of cards—collapse is inevitable and debilitating.
Just think: where would I be now if I had known to change course earlier on, if I had chosen not to fear and revile my weaknesses, but to respect and honor them instead? If I had followed the trail of my talents and strengths, and allowed my limits to stand on their own and help guide my journey?
Would I be writing this blog, I wonder?
Fortunately I’m starting to learn these lessons. I can’t even begin to tell you how freeing it is to know that I cannot do everything I put my mind to. My weaknesses exist not to cut me down, but to point the way to my purpose, my calling.
My square edges are mine, and I’m keeping them.