Know Yourself


“He that hath a beard is more than a youth,and he that hath no beard is less than a man. He that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”

Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing

Have you ever been afraid to go to class?

I had an accounting instructor, Professor Schultz, who would work a problem on the white board and call on people at random intervals to solve the next step.  This behavior wracked my nerves.

To top it off, Professor Schultz was a brash, loud man with a booming voice, and he was not afraid to create pet names for everyone.

On the first day of class Professor Schultz was reviewing integrating fractions, and while I was desperately trying to remember if I even KNEW fractions were segregated, he started calling on people.

I was sweating as he made his way through each step calling out one after another of my 30 or so classmates.  Luckily each time he overlooked me.  Until the end when  he announced:

"NOW we are at the easy part!  This is just algebra! YOU! The blonde in the back.  What's your name?"

Uh oh.  I was sunk.

"I'm Joy."

"Aha!" He said like he discovered something. "PRINCESS JOY! Go, go, go!"

"Oh GREAAAT"I thought, "Princess Joy" is going to win me some friends.

Still, I had a bigger problem. I had to do public math.

I took a deep breath and moved around numbers taking each step slowly and deliberately. I did OK considering...well, considering my math skills.

"GREAT PJ!" Schultz hollered, "Now it's basic arithmetic!  What's our answer?"

Uh oh!  I had lost my concentration.  I slowly whispered the answer....

"3 ?"Yes, I answered the question with a question.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! YOU ARE WRONG YOU CRUM BUM!!!" he boomed. "Can someone help this poor girl out?????!!!""

Clearly my admission had been a mistake.

A hand went up, and a guy offered the correct answer, "NEGATIVE 3, sir."

Apparently I have an aversion to all things negative, along with numbers.

A simple mistake I reasoned.

As time would tell, Professor Schultz was awesome and made all kinds of efforts to make sure I was engaged and on track.  I ended up doing pretty well in accounting, though it was never a natural fit.  However, one day, near the end of the quarter Professor Schultz pulled me aside and said,

"You know, PJ, there are two kinds of people in the world -  poets and people who work with numbers."

Then he paused to make sure I heard his assessment.  "You, my dear, are a poet."

This was my first practical experience of someone telling me to lean into my strengths.

I can work with numbers and, on occasion, even LIKE them, but anyone who knows me knows I'll never be an analyst.   There is no reason for me to expend an ounce of energy trying to "fake it" on this front.  People see through me and know I'm better with words than I am with numbers.

Do you know your strengths?  Where are you naturally awesome?  Spend your time working in your sweet spot and delegate or marginalize the tasks where you don't add value.

Not everyone can be an accountant.  The world needs poets too!