What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I had a job interview last week and, as expected, there were many questions that I had not prepared for. One of these was, “what are your strengths?” followed by “what are your weaknesses?”

Now, maybe in daily life I have a vague idea of what these things are but it’s a rare moment to sit down and articulate these things to myself. It was a great prod and I thought it would be worthwhile to sit down and reflect to find out what the name of my strengths and weaknesses are.

This practice is something that has actually been encouraged within the tertiary Community Development studies that I am currently tying up. I have been delightfully surprised by this focus in a tertiary Major – that of reflective practice. It’s personal and soul-searching, but does not seem particularly at home in a business environment, though perhaps it should be, which is the point, I guess!

We can not divorce the person from the activity, whether professional or personal.

There is one issue here though, and it is that I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that.

Something I may see as a strength, you may see as a weakness. For example, I see my deep appreciation for the natural world as a strength, something that guides my decision making and values, but in the business world this could be considered a weakness as it stops me making hardline decisions that prioritise the economic “bottom-line.”

Also, strengths and weaknesses can swap places depending on context. Focus is great when it comes down to the crunch line and an important project is due, but terrible when you are in an environment where constant interruption is a mainstay. Learning quickly does not always mean learning deeply. A high degree of autonomy is not valued when you are expected to purely follow orders.

So, maybe this is why it is hard to label certain characteristics ‘weaknesses’ or ‘strengths’, basically they are merely characteristics, but they are vital to be aware of in order to navigate the varying situations of life to the best of our ability.

This whole discussion also ties into the key sustainability aspect of resilience. The industrial system which our economy relies upon, and which has boosted economic growth profoundly, has proven itself to be extremely efficient, this is its greatest strength, and also it’s greatest weakness.

While many natural systems are extremely resilient, they can be quite inefficient at certain things – such as providing great amounts of food. Monoculture provides us with large quantities of food, but the system is so fragile and so dependent on external inputs that it is very low in resilience.

While our industry reliant economic and social systems produce things and pump money around efficiently they meanwhile degrade the support systems we actually depend on, such as community, the environment and even personal happiness, which means that the whole system becomes more and more liable to collapse as these support systems wear thin. It is neither good to be too resilient or too efficient, both must do a merry dance between them to uphold the health of the systems they maintain.

So there is more to simple ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ than we might first assume. We are not living in a black and white world and as we creep ever closer to the tipping point in a fragile group of systems I think we can less afford to see the world in this black and white way. It is an efficient way to dissect and understand things in brief, but it does not capture the complexity of people or of the situations we find ourselves in.

Nevertheless, I did undertake this exercise in reflection and it has brought great clarity and, hopefully, set me up better for the next job interview, but more importantly for the next step, and the next, and the next…