An excerpt from the book, Lady, You’re the Boss by Apurva Purohit.

Strengths Not Weaknesses

I take most things as a compliment. I find it makes life much easier. – Dowager Countess, Downton Abbey

From the comfortable distance of thirty-five years I can look back and laugh at my adolescent self. Poor thing, she seems to have spent her teenage years mostly being either tongue-tied and shy, or moody and angry. A large part of those painful years however, was spent being hopelessly mortified at everything around me—the old Fiat car my father drove breaking down at awkward intervals, entailing all of us getting out and pushing it when we were all dressed in our finery; my sister laughing loudly in movie halls; my parents going to meet my teachers at school; or me developing a football-sized stye on the day of my cousin’s wedding!

Every small thing that goes wrong, such as a stye in the eye, is either a catastrophe of ginormous proportion or it is a personal attack on their self.

It is a medical fact that teenagers suffer from something known as cognitive distortion as a result of the mismatch in the development of different parts of their brains as they are growing up. This distortion results in exaggerated and unreasonable thoughts that cause them to misperceive reality and then subsequently feel bad. Every small thing that goes wrong, such as a stye in the eye, is either a catastrophe of ginormous proportion or it is a personal attack on their self. (Why did fate make me look so ugly with one eye half- blinded because of that huge stye just on the day of the sangeet when there are so many good looking boys around and everyone else is looking so gorgeous? I am doomed forever!)

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However, as teens grow into adulthood, the laggard part of the brain responsible for calm reasoning catches up with the fast-paced anxious part and things start falling into some semblance of peace and quiet. While this biological evolutionary theory seems to have explained everything very neatly and tied it up with a cute bow, it appears as if the female brain missed reading this, because it continues suffering from heightened anxious brain syndrome despite moving deep into adulthood! What else can explain our peculiar penchant for always seeing the negative in ourselves rather than the positives? For concentrating on criticisms rather than praise? For seeing all flaws magnified manifold in ourselves And thus remaining acutely anxious most of the time?

Certainly I see a wide disparity in self-confidence between the male and female managers who’ve worked under me. A female manager will come out of a presentation and immediately start muttering about all the things she did wrong. She will filter out all the positives and retain only the mistakes she made. While the male manager usually swaggers out of such meetings assured that he’s just delivered the Gettysburg Address. Recently we had one such incident. One of our male senior heads was supposed to talk about a specific topic. Instead he gave a long-winded speech that jumped from his childhood to Aristotle while meandering through an example about an extreme sport no one had heard of. It had little to do with the topic at hand and, frankly, made little sense. He came up to me with a self-satisfied smirk after the meeting and drawled, ‘That went rather well, no?’

I goggled and gasped and wiggled my eyebrows, which is my default response with these pompous lads, since banging them on the head with a hefty hammer could be misconstrued as unprofessionalism!

It would be hilarious if this were an isolated incident. But when the pattern keeps recurring without break, then the joke is on us women.

Focusing on and magnifying weaknesses is not the monopoly of women alone. I look around at what happens in our organisations and I see a flawed system at work. When creating our training programmes, we typically analyse the skills of all the people in the organisation and figure out their strengths and weaknesses. More often than not, training programmes concentrate on how to overcome those weaknesses while taking the strengths for granted.

Great sports teams are built on the opposite philosophy. Good coaches know that the secret to a knockout performance lies in building on a player’s strengths and minimising their weaknesses. If Sachin Tendulkar was constantly told to improve his bowling, where would our cricket team have been? Why strive to be an average all-rounder when you can be the world’s greatest batsman? When we leverage our strengths to tackle challenges we become the best version of ourselves.

I’ve witnessed what focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses can do to a woman’s life. And I’ve intimately experienced how doing the opposite hurts. The stye is never as large as it seems, and more notably, it is temporary. Regardless of that, you have beautiful eyes. Make the most of them. A little kajal perhaps?

Image Credit: Westland/ Apurva Purohit

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Excerpted with permission from Lady, You’re the Boss by Apurva Purohit, Westland.

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