Your most potent strengths are not always the ones you recognize to be so – or the ones you naturally gravitate towards. The one that will eventually announce you to the world could be the very one you repeatedly run away from. There are times when we believe we’re just the “Don” at something because we’ve been doing it for so long and besides, it’s an area our supposed strength has always led us to. We just can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else. Someone then comes along who has never done it before and expresses a total lack of confidence in his ability to do it. He does it anyway and surprisingly proves to be a natural. This can be extremely demoralizing for the “Don” but, hey! Wake up and smell the coffee. That’s life. It means you’re yet to find your sweet spot.
The fact that you fear something doesn’t mean you can’t be excellent or even the best at it. The activity, profession or occupation you like, may only take you to the level of good and not great. Why do you think discerning people around us sometimes see what we have the potential to be great at even when we don’t? There are times when we simply need to yield to these latent “strengths”, accept them to be so, so we can run with them – even when it scares the hell out of us.
In backing this up, Jim Collins in his iconic book, Good to Great had this to say: “You might have a competence but not necessarily have the capacity to be truly the best in the world at that competence. Conversely, there may be activities at which you could become the best in the world but at which you have no current competence.” So you may appear not to have competence in something and yet possess an uncanny, innate ability to excel at it. Sounds a little cryptic perhaps but it actually makes perfect sense.
Cast your mind back for a moment as I refer to the earlier statement. Have you ever been told that you would be great at something that has always scared the living daylights out of you? Maybe you’ve been told you’d make a great public speaker or a fantastic compère, meanwhile there’s nothing that puts the heebie-jeebies in you more than the thought of talking before a large crowd. And somehow, you either whip up the courage to just try it or you find yourself in a situation one day where you have no choice. You step up to the challenge and unknown to everybody present, you’re shaking like a jelly inside; however, you carry it off wonderfully. It just flows. You’re a natural.
I remember when I was at my Prep school (Primary school) in the UK. And because it was a boarding school, it was compulsory for us to write letters to our parents every Sunday. It was one of those “immediately after lunch” affairs. I hated it. Even the thought of it would always scare me. I wasted half of the allotted time looking around the hall in a complete blank. What am I going to write that’s different to what I wrote last Sunday? Do take note that this was in the 1970s, when a letter could take a better part of a month to reach its final destination in Nigeria!
Still, whether I liked it or not, I had to do it. I was always one of the last to finish and leave the hall – way past the time allotted to it. But my dad would always write back to say he enjoyed reading my letters. He liked the way it was comprehensive, well thought out and how it would flow from one item to the next in a logical manner. The commendation pleased me but that was where it ended. After he passed away in 2013, I found several of my letters from back then amongst his personal belongings. Several decades later, my eldest brother and I got involved in a small business together and I remember feeling quite chuffed when he responded to an update I had to relay to him one day.
He said he just had to inform me that he loved reading my updates and messages because they were not only complete, thorough and unambiguous but the structure was easy to follow from item to the next. A few years after that, I founded a beautiful and highly successful supermarket with a partner and on the days that he couldn’t come in, I would always relay how the day went in writing. He too one day expressed a similar opinion and added that they were always a joy to read. About a year ago, a fellow neighbour got my phone number and called me to say she was always impressed by my quick responses and timely feedback to the “house” regarding electricity matters.
I had been elected to head the Electricity Committee of our estate which meant liaising with the distribution company on behalf of the estate and reporting back. She didn’t stop there but said she always marveled at how well I was always able to convey the relevant information on the estate WhatsApp platform. She didn’t stop there either but went on to ask if I’m into politics! As I responded in the negative, she said she just wanted me to know that if I ever decided to participate in politics, I have a loyal supporter waiting! Till this day, I don’t know who she is. She insisted on remaining anonymous.
I hated being given a random title and told to write a story on it at school. This was just a nightmare for me. Many decades later, I have however come to realize that what was really missing all those years was something I was driven to write about. When writing on topics that I’m passionate about, it feels like I’m in my own little heaven. I find myself totally in my element but tell me to write about gardening or about magnificent mansions for example, and it would feel like a punishment. You may take some consolation in knowing that though you would almost certainly be bored reading it, it couldn’t compare to the boredom that would consume me while writing it. Sometimes, all that’s needed to bring the best out of you is for the talent to be channeled in the right direction. So like a wise person once said, do it afraid. Your best self may just be waiting on you to face your fears so he or she can finally emerge and blossom for the whole world to see. When you arrive at that sweet spot, everything within you will tell you, this is where you’re supposed to be.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA and author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.