Know your strengths

The three months I spent working for a Californian carnival (travelling funfair) in my early twenties were some of the happiest of my life. Managing my sideshow at weekends, then on the road in a truck and trailer on weekdays – camping overnight wherever we happened to be – taught me life lessons which call out to me even now.

You make friends quickly and deeply when you experience an adventure like this, so when it was sadly time to pick up my backpack and head back to another world, it was crushing to say goodbye to Jack, Cathy, Kris and Zeke (where are you all now?)

I was so touched that they’d clubbed together to buy me a leaving present after I’d only worked with them for three months. For goodness’ sake, some people spend twenty years in a job and leave without so much as a potted plant.

What did they get me? My first ever Swiss Army penknife, that’s what. I’ve owned several since then, but you never forget your first Swiss Army knife – the Explorer model, with fifteen blades and tools including a magnifying glass and scissors.

I loved that knife, and it stayed close at hand for many years until it sadly got lost somewhere (where are you now?) but although you could, and I did, carry out a surprisingly large number of tasks with it, there were others for which it just wasn’t equipped. There’s nothing on a Swiss Army knife which will help you change a wheel on your car for instance, nor would it be sensible to consider using it to carry out surgery.

Of course, just as a multi-bladed penknife has its strengths and weaknesses, so too do you and I. We may well be good at a few things, but nobody can excel at everything. If my trusty little knife had a soul, I think it would have been at its happiest sharpening a pencil, removing a splinter, or slicing up a picnic lunch. It would almost certainly have been less chirpy if expected to prune a tree, even a modest little dwarf cypress.

You and I are happiest when we recognise our strengths, still more so when we apply them. And we’re least happy when, thanks to our weaknesses, we struggle along with the kind of challenge for which we’re just not equipped.

So maybe today’s a perfect one to celebrate your strengths (you know you have them, and if you stop to think for a minute, you know what they are) and put them to good use.

Just as important, acknowledge your weaknesses because, I’m not kidding, everyone has them. Ask for help from someone better equipped than you. There really is no shame in doing so.

As I said, I really loved that little Swiss Army knife.

Not for what it couldn’t do, but for what it could.

2 thoughts on “Know your strengths

  1. I love that reading this post from the beginning, I couldn’t see whether Jon or Alex had written it. In fact, I decided it was Alex, although Swiss Army Knives might be thought of as boy toys. Such wise words, too.

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