I have this friend, Ada, who once told me that her biggest professional pet peeve was when people answered the question “what is your biggest weakness?” question when interviewing something that is actually a strength.
On the surface, it’s an easily enjoyable pet peeve. You spent the entire interview talking about your talent in your personal, academic and professional life, why can’t you name just one weakness? That’s how I got into my tech interview prep as a bright-eyed freshman in college. I was having an interview with a private equity firm, preparing my notes and trying to think of some kind of weakness. In most interviews, they don’t directly say you’re your biggest weakness, but they ask the question in a roundabout way, so it’s important to have some sort of answer.
The more I thought about what my greatest weakness should be, the more puzzled I became. I’m not trying to say that the reason I couldn’t think of a weakness was that I’m absolutely perfect and have no flaws (however, that’s still something to consider). I found, time and time again, that the things I thought were my biggest flaws all seemed to turn out to be good traits. I saw the traits that I had on my list of strengths also show up, in part, on my list of weaknesses. The more I thought about it, the more it started to turn into a new Calihan philosophy.
Often we believe that weaknesses come from the categories in which we are lacking, but I believe they come more from the categories in which we are prolific because sometimes we can divulge too much. It is as if these character traits that we possess fluctuate among a spectrum. When we are at our best, these are strengths; at worst, weaknesses.
I believe my greatest strength is my discipline. When I make up my mind to something, it’s going to happen… no matter what this trip looks like. I started playing club football in the third year and spent all my free time outside of school on the common ground near my house training… when I was seven years old. The same thing happened in middle school and high school. Although my activities changed in college, I would say that I became even more obsessive. Especially when it comes to being an upper class student and getting a good job after graduation. I think it’s one of my parents’ biggest worries about me that I’m becoming too obsessive. Ditching friends, missing sleep, missing meals, just to investigate another case, send another note, or apply for another job. When things don’t work out, or I get kicked out of a job I’ve built the rest of my life around, everything falls apart. The earthquake and aftershocks all occur at the same time. So the good attribute of being disciplined has now become an absolute obsession. My goals grab me by the neck and don’t let go until they’re completed, no matter what they have to go through to become complete.
With determination, it’s the same thing. If I decide one day that I want to work with a certain company, the next morning I contacted at least five different people on LinkedIn and came up with a game plan to get the job. On the surface, this seems like a good feature to have, and sometimes it is. But also sometimes it translates into a huge lack of impatience. Earlier this month, I asked my friend Sevyn if she could ask her supervisor, Brielle, if I could have her email. Brielle runs a business in the industry I want to work in and I thought it would be beneficial to set up a lunch date together. It was Monday, and Sevyn said she would have it done by the end of the week.
I was stunned. The end of the week? Why don’t you just ask the day of? With each passing day Sevyn came home without speaking with her supervisor, I became more and more furious with her. When I told my mother about the situation, she laughed and told me that I had to be patient. Waiting only a week to get such a full connection was nothing, most of the time it takes months. She told me that even though I give myself a 12 hour deadline for all impregnating tasks, not everyone is the same. So I was enraged at Sevyn, when really it was just the toxicity of one of my greatest strengths manifesting in chronic, brooding impatience.
This global indefectibility on the dates, the time and the order in which I want things to happen is also thanks to my strength of mind. A friend of mine from high school once said to me in a fit of rage, “Your strong will is the thing I love most about you most of the time, but right now it’s the thing I hate. most at home!” She figured out Calihan’s spectrum theory before me, it seems. My analytical thinking and hard-nosed attitude often collide with each other to make me a little too much like Hannibal Smith of the A-Team who “likes[s] when a plan comes to fruition”. When I present a strategic plan for a goal, I know it will work, but if it ever strays from that path, I’m less sure, and therefore convinced it won’t work.
Another integral part of my personality is my independence. I’m not afraid to do things on my own, take my own path, or stand up for myself. However, as I get older, especially with the addition of COVID, sometimes I feel like I have too good to be alone. Often I come home at night and find that I haven’t spoken to anyone all day. Leaving before my roommates woke up and were alone all Saturday, absolutely indifferent to it.
I moved when I was 18, across the country. I lived in an off-campus apartment, so no one really told me what I could and couldn’t do. From then on, I was the only authority figure I had to listen to, except to be courteous to the roommates. We recently took a program trip to Toledo and this personality trait came out strong. We were driven as a large group on a bus and then made to walk around with a tour group instead of exploring the city on our own. At the end of the day, the program people posted photos they had taken of us on the tour and I had my arms crossed over each one. I was so used to traveling alone and setting my own agenda of what sites I wanted to see that I spent the whole day exasperated by the lack of freedom. I just wanted to be freed by myself.
So what’s the point of understanding all this, “strengths and weaknesses are a spectrum”? All I can do is know that another of my traits is curiosity and the ability to think introspectively and analytically about things, the weakness being that it’s not always necessary.
Ultimately, it’s just another stepping stone on the path to figuring out how we work best and slowly putting our personality into words. This is the same reason we are interested in the Enneagram (3) or Myers Briggs (INTJ) – to simply learn about our personality so that we can function, work and interact at our highest level.
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