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7 steps to embracing weakness

Find out from this Empower17 session why “what makes us weak also makes us strong.”

4 min read



“What makes us weird also makes us wonderful. What makes us weak also makes us strong,” author and speaker Dave Rendall said during his ASCD Empower17 special feature session “The Freak Factor: Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weakness.”

Rendall engaged the audience with personal stories and other examples aimed at illuminating how strengths come with corresponding weaknesses, and how weaknesses offer clues to strengths.

A student who, like Rendall as a child, may have difficulties remaining still or quiet, or doing what they’re told, may be criticized or punished for these characteristics. But Rendall shared how these qualities may have a more positive flipside down the line.

“I get paid to do three things as an adult: I get paid to stand up, not to sit down. I get paid to talk, not to be quiet. I get paid to run my own business, not to do what other people tell me to do. It turned it out that every one of my weaknesses was in fact a weakness — especially in school — but that it also was a powerful strength that no one including me ever saw.”

Rendall offered the audience a seven-step process for seeing and treating weaknesses differently.

The process begins with awareness — recognizing what an individual’s weaknesses are and then using that information to identify their strengths. “Once we can see what’s weak, we can see what’s strong,” he noted.

Next is acceptance, though Rendall noted that this step is often preceded by adaptation or adjustment, whereby people are responding to outside feedback telling them to make changes to who they are.

But Rendall explained that acceptance involves understanding both the strength and weakness of a particular characteristic, recognizing that they are inextricably linked. It is also the case, he explained, that when we try to fix the weakness, we end up damaging the corresponding strength. “We damage the good in order to fix the bad, not realizing they’re inseparable.”

Appreciation follows and involves recognizing that people succeed because of their weaknesses, rather than in spite of them, Rendall explained.

With these first three steps realized, it is time to act differently and treat people differently, Rendall said. And then use amplification to turn up the volume on the very quality that has been considered a weakness.

Using his participation in endurance sports as an example, he noted that, “As an adult I get praised and rewarded for the very thing I used to get criticized and punished for, not because I found the right balance. It’s because I turned up the volume.”

The sixth step is alignment when we stop trying to fit in and, rather, try to find the right fit, Rendall said. “If your goal requires you to change dramatic things about you, then maybe that shouldn’t be the goal.”

He explained how, sometimes, rather than changing ourselves, we should be trying to change our situations. He suggested that people consider what tasks they should stop doing to put more time and energy toward continuing to develop their strengths.

With the final step in the process — affiliation — Rendall suggested that individuals be willing to admit their weaknesses and then partner with people who are strong where they are weak, despite how they feel about their differences.

In closing, Rendall challenged the audience to share in his mission: Help reveal in others something that is “valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.”

“If you’re that kind of person,” Rendall noted, “you’ll have an amazing impact in this world.”

Katharine Haber is an education editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.


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