What do I look like you say? Well, I’m no oil painting. I’ve never been described as ‘the good looking one’. I’m too thin. I’ve not got manly shoulders.
Personality-wise, I’m pretty selfish and like getting what I want. I’m argumentative. I experience periods of quite bad depression and this leads to unpleasant changes in my behaviour towards other people. My mood swings cause trouble between me and my wife sometimes. When I’m down, I become more introverted and lose my confidence.
I also have a habit of resorting to sarcasm.
As for my work, well, I can’t focus. I’m superficially interested in lots of impressive sounding things but, when it comes down to it, I have trouble completing anything. I’ve been clinging to my dream of being a musician since my teens but really I just need to grow up.
I have no respect for authority and that means I can be really stubborn if you try and force me to do anything I don’t want to do. I put far too much effort into insulating myself from other people’s influence. This sometimes means holding on to my money with both hands so some of my friends think I’m overzealous with my frugality.
Enough about me though…
My good looking friend
When I was a teenager, I had a particular friend who was a hit with the ladies. I don’t know a girl that I went to school with who didn’t find him attractive.
I never had that problem.
Of course I had girlfriends and some girls ‘fancied’ me but the list was much shorter than my friend’s.
The funny thing is, discovering that I was not the best out of all my friends at getting girls to like me despite being comparatively good at other things like English, Maths, and History led me to inadvertently develop a skill as I progressed through my teens and in to my twenties.
As I got older, I learned that, to attract members of the fairer sex, in a lot of cases I would have to rely much more on my intellect, my conversational skills, my ability to read reactions and my sense of humour than the way I looked. In short, if I could get a ‘foot in the door’ (i.e. get involved in a conversation), I became reasonably good at ‘pitching’ myself.
This experience taught me something extremely important which is probably one of the core reasons I’ve been able to build a life which suits me. Worrying too much about my weaknesses was a waste of time. OK, I might put in a bit of effort to compensate for them sometimes, but my real focus was always on improving the things I was already quite good at.
Spending 2 hours doing my hair was never going to have the same impact as having interesting opinions and honing my, shall we say, Marmite sense of humour?!.
Of course, this strategy also had the effect of selecting for potential partners who were well-suited to me (i.e. they found my nerdy jokes funny instead of annoying) rather than me wasting a lot of time on relationships where physical attraction was the only foundation.
As weird as it sounds, this is the way to think if you want to make big changes like quitting the rat race and building a job-free life.
I’ll show you what I mean.
As you can probably imagine, I talk to a lot of people about the whole not working 9-to-5 thing. In some cases, I’ll be having a conversation with somebody and they’ll be really engaged.
They’re fascinated by the fact that I’m neither in work on a Tuesday morning nor am I extremely poor. It seems like they’d enjoy having a similar sort of life so I start describing how I accomplished it. And then… the excuses start. They typically take the form
Well you’re lucky. That wouldn’t work for me because…
I think that this is analogous to the resignation that I felt as a 14 year old because I wasn’t the best looking boy in school.
Now, as I’ve pointed out several times, in a lot of ways, I am very lucky. I was born in the UK for a start (not Bangladesh or Somalia) but, it’s likely that my conversational partner was too.
OK, beyond that, I happened to be quite academically able, outgoing and interested in things which have led to well-paid career opportunities. But, I wasn’t born with loads of money saved up, good sales skills and a professional network.
I certainly didn’t drag myself up from ‘the bottom’ by my bootstraps. Life has never really been a struggle. However, I did (through much trial and even more error!) recognise what my strengths and advantages were and put most of my energy into capitalising upon them rather than dwelling on my disadvantages.
If I had wanted to use my comfortable middle-class upbringing as a platform for a career in underwear modelling, professional football or being a rock star, I would not have achieved much success because I would have been battling against too many weaknesses.
Be the ugly kid
So if you’re feeling stuck and unsatisfied with your situation, don’t focus on the reasons why not. Stop thinking about aspects of your personality and situation which are holding you back.
Try to get a really deep understanding of your best attributes. I’m not necessarily talking about things you can do which have the power to immediately double your income, just qualities you have that you haven’t been nurturing enough.
You might find that there’s something which you’ve been uniquely good at all along which will open up opportunities to build a life of freedom and autonomy. There’s a chance you’ll discover that some of the things you perceived as weaknesses actually give you a unique advantage after all.
My minor burden
An example of one of my seemingly negative attributes that I’ve learned to embrace over the past couple of years is the diversity of my interests (otherwise known as my lack of focus).
Just look what I wrote in the intro to this article.
I’m superficially interested in lots of impressive sounding things but, when it comes down to it, I have trouble completing anything.
I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that, even though I now have plenty of free time, I’ll probably still never achieve a lot of my creative goals. In my first year of job-freedom, I kept flitting from one big project to another, getting bored of each after a couple of months.
I was really tempted to try to ‘improve’ my focus by employing various productivity strategies. However, I found that if I wasn’t interested in the current focus, I could never force myself to work hard enough to achieve any results. I came across the label multipotentialite which seems to describe my personality quite accurately.
But, over time, I’ve learned to embrace the positive aspects of this personal characteristic. Framed in terms of describing a weakness, I might say
I can’t focus and that stops me from completing anything
However, looking on the positive side of this, a different way of putting it might be
I’m interested in (and have superficial knowledge of) a lot of things. This allows me to look in more places for opportunities and makes me quite an efficient autodidact.
Nowadays I just don’t have unrealistic expectations of myself. I will lose my focus sooner or later. I accept that. Trying to change it would be an inefficient use of my resources. I just need to make big enough steps to make a dent in each goal every time I manage to get focus. I manage the weakness sensibly, but I don’t try to get rid of it.
However, I do try to capitalise on the fact that I can now engage reasonably intelligently in conversation with people who are experts in a wide variety of areas. This opens up lots of opportunities which wouldn’t exist if I only ever thought about one specialist area.
I’ve recently (inadvertently) tested the concept of embracing my ‘new shiny thing’ excitement/short attention span problem. When I decided to add a blog to this site, I experienced the familiar manic obsession I seem to get at the start of every big project. I put all of my creative energy into writing. I actually got to the point of feeling a bit burnt out.
However, I wrote upwards of 15,000 words over a very productive 2 week period, including writing 4 posts in advance of their publishing dates. This has prepared me well for me getting bored of writing and starting to procrastinate, which previous experience tells me will happen any time now.
I’ve used my unhealthy new project obsession to compensate for the productivity lull that I’m reasonably sure will come in the next couple of months when my attention is diverted by something else interesting.
Imperfect, and loving it!
So, the moral of the story is that nobody is perfect. In fact, perfect isn’t even a word with a sensible meaning.
Nobody is absolutely ideally placed to build a life of freedom and autonomy. Some have it easier than others but, if that’s what you want to achieve, you need to focus on what you have got going for you, instead of always seeing advantages that other people have, but you lack.
So here goes…
Hi, I’m Andy.
I’m good at some things and bad at many more.
I spend a lot of my energy trying to capitalise upon my natural talents to get what I want out of life.
I accept that I have a lot of weaknesses but I don’t dwell on them. I’ve learned to know when it’s worth trying to compensate for them and when I should just accept myself the way I am.
I know myself well enough to not get quite as frustrated as I used to about my lack of smooth progress.
I’ve learned to focus on the things I can control.
I’ll never be classically good looking, but my wife doesn’t seem to mind, so I can live with that.
Accepting myself for being this way (and learning how to make the most of it) has allowed me to build my life of freedom. I imagine that you could probably do the same.
Although I normally write about the nuts and bolts of making and managing money, I think that learning how to tame my personality has been one of the biggest contributors to the success of my plan to get out of the grind.
What do you think? Are there any things you would consider as weaknesses that are currently getting in your way? What about times you’ve learned to use your natural talents to your advantage? Please leave a comment!
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[Image “Cartoon Character Hamster Exercise” courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]