My wife and I went to a 5 Guys burgers for lunch today. She’s a vegetarian, so we don’t go there very often. They do have a grilled cheese which she likes, but you can only get that so many times before you get tired of it. As we were standing in line, she leaned over and asked “what’s the difference between the veggie sandwich, veggie cheese sandwich, and grilled cheese?”. It was a perfectly normal conversation for us – we go some place that both of us have been to, she has no memory of any of the specifics about the place and asks me, and I procede to describe everything about the place in great detail to make sure she can make an informed decision.
Today, though, I didn’t respond with snark or sigh prior to answering. Perhaps I’m finally getting used to her asking… or perhaps I’m finally starting to accept something about myself that I have previously disregarded: I have a better memory than most.
I’ve spent years fighting my own arrogance. I constantly struggle with it. I have to make concious efforts to recognize that every person I come in contact with is more experienced and more intelligent than I am given the right scenario. I’ve made significant progress on this front in the last 10 years, to the point where it pains me to even write a statement about my memory being a strength in comparison to others. I mean, how arrogant must I be to make such a statement? What a ridiculous notion, that of all the people I know, I am some how special or better than they are. It goes against everything I have been taught and have been fighting against, and flies directly in the face of the worldview that I hold.
When I look back at my career and all those that I’ve worked with, I see a trend that disturbs me. I have, on a regular basis, been condescending toward those that I work with because they didn’t remember some mundane detail. When a coworker would ask me something, I would gladly explain it and offer them as much detail and assistance as I could give and they needed. When it came time for them to ask the same question again a week or two later, my responses tended to get more and more snarky and condescending. I simply couldn’t understand why they had to ask the same question again (even if they thought it was a different question). It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the truth in how I have reacted to others who didn’t remember something.
Here’s the problem as I see it now: in my effort to fight my own arrogance and recognize the intelligence of others, I have purposely disregarded anything about myself that stood out as exceptional. I like to think my intentions were good – to balance myself out and be a better person. But it backfired on me… horribly.
When I convinced myself that I wasn’t any better than anyone else, I unconciously reacted in an arrogant manner because I couldn’t understand why others couldn’t remember the detail that I did. After all, “I remember it and I’m not any better than anyone else” – or so I thought to myself. And if that’s true, then “why can’t you remember the code that you wrote a few weeks ago and use it as a template for what you’re doing now?”
Talk about arrogance… here I was trying to fight my own tendencies and in the process I ended up right at the place I was trying to avoid, without knowing it. How could I even remotely stand a chance in a fight against this if I didn’t even recognize that I was stuck right in the middle of it?
Acceptance Of Your Own Strengths
Here’s the reality that hit me today as I was answering my wife’s question about which sandwich she should order: I do have strengths (and weaknesses) in comparison to others. I do have a very strong memory and I am able to explain many details about many things, that others would not (or could not) bother to remember.
Accept your strengths for what they are and understand them. This is not arrogance. It’s only accpetance. The arrogant response when someone is asking you to use your strength is to not understand your own strengths, and to respond in condescention or frustration when another person does not have the same strength as you. However, you can’t assume others don’t have the same strength as you, either. This would lead down the same path. You have to accept your strengths for what they are without making any assumptions about other people.
The appropriate response to the recognition of one’s own strengths, then, is to use those strengths to the benefit of others while helping them play to their strengths.
One Step Of A Long Journey
You have strengths and you must understand and play to those strengths. Accept that others are better than you in some way – more experienced, more intelligent, more adept at working in certain circumstances, etc. Create a more unified whole by encouraging the entire team – yourself included – to play to their strengths but don’t stop there, either. Stretch yourself and others, in order to grow.