Opinion: Am I really helping myself grow?

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Focusing on your strengths doesn’t mean staying in your comfort zone. It means to anticipate what could be a stumbling block and to watch out for it. (Pexels)

While students in my high school creative writing class read their answers for the word association exercise we had just done, I looked at my own list and realized my words were nothing like what anyone else had written. When my teacher said “green,” most people wrote things like grass, leaf and grape. My list had words like salad, spray paint, brillo pad, and Tuesday — and I got some strange looks.

Hypothesis: I might be a little weird. 

Later that year, I took an aptitude test which gave me a detailed profile of my natural strengths and weaknesses. One section was a word association test which compared your answers to a list of common answers. The more words you said that matched up with the common word list, the more likely you were to jive with things like group work because your brain was generally on the same wavelength as everyone else’s. 

Out of 30 words, I had only one common answer. 

Conclusion: I am a little weird. 

Years later when I was diagnosed with ADHD, it was like something clicked into place and my world finally made sense. I was able to understand myself more deeply and compassionately and realize I wasn’t just weird — there is genuinely something different about the way my brain functions. 

I wish I had understood that in all the situations when I defaulted to the answers I thought were acceptable instead of what I was actually thinking.

There’s this gem of a verse in Leviticus which says, “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). In other words, thou shalt not take advantage of another’s weaknesses, or hold people to standards they don’t understand — including yourself. 

I — and probably a lot of other people — do a great job of putting out stumbling blocks for myself. For me, this looks like not asking questions even if I don’t understand or process what someone has said. It is perfectionism in setting goals and staying quiet when I have an idea. It is keeping an actual list of what I will say when someone asks about my favorite movies, music or TV shows. 

It is acting like who I think I should be instead of who I truly am. I have spent a lot of time zeroed in on my weaknesses because I wished I didn’t have them. As an unfortunate side effect, for most of my life I have completely ignored my strengths because they weren’t what I thought they should be. 

With support from friends, family and a great therapist, it’s becoming easier for me to be patient with myself and more accepting of what I can and can’t do. 

Ether 12 is one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture for many reasons, but I do love the classic “weakness into strength” verse. It gives me hope when I’m frustrated with myself and my failings. 

As great as it is, I think we take it out of context sometimes. We focus a little too much on what will be — our weakness will become strong — and cut Christ out of the equation. Instead of relying on the Savior to help us where we struggle, hustle culture tells us to “grind” until we have no weaknesses. 

Read self help books, make a bullet journal, meal prep. Develop the seven habits for highly successful people and you will never fail. Devote your time to the things you’re bad at, and you will finally be good. 

I have found those things just don’t work (for me, at least). When all of my effort goes toward making my weaknesses disappear, I don’t get anything out of it except frustration and self-criticism. Even if I improve, it’s never enough to appease my perfectionism and I’m left right where I began. 

For the past four semesters, I have taken at least one asynchronous online class. Sadly, it’s taken me four semesters to realize I really, really don’t like them. It’s hard for me to keep track of assignments, I don’t take in the material as well and I always wish I hadn’t signed up. However, I keep doing it because, “This time, I’ll finally do it right.” 

I never do. Every semester starts with a detailed spreadsheet full of my best intentions and all the organization skills I can find within myself. Within a week, I have already forgotten to turn something in.

Even my best google calendar-ing can’t make up for the simple fact that I do not have the self-discipline or attention span to run a class by myself. I used to think this meant I was not a good student, when in reality I was actively working against myself. 

Taking the online class (fully aware I wouldn’t do well) was me putting a stumbling block in front of myself, knowing I would trip, but wishing I wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to try and become better. It’s also important to set ourselves up for success. Focusing on your strengths doesn’t mean staying in your comfort zone. It means to anticipate what could be a stumbling block and to watch out for it. This way, instead of tripping all the time, you can actually enjoy the journey and learn something new.

I just think we often disguise perfectionism and self-criticism as self-help. I’m all for acknowledging and accommodating weakness, but I think we should nurture our strengths more than we try to weed out struggles.

— Abigail Jane Gunderson

Senior reporter

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