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Careers Café

Putting yourself in context

What do your flaws (yes, you have some) look like in their best, most advantageous form?


I was going to write a post about my favourite cringe-worthy networking advice, but that will just have to wait a month. Julie S. Lalonde’s tweet about now making a living from her insufficient academic writing struck a chord with me. First, it became clear that I’ve spent too much time online recently. Second, her story has applications beyond the First Gen students for whom she shared it. Just as her straightforward writing style held her back in one context and drove her to success in another, we all have hidden assets that would come to light in an environment that needs them.


Of course, the future value of our current failings is tough to predict, when we see the ways in which we’re ill adapted to our current work. Heck, you might already be forming a list in your mind of things you’d change about yourself, given a magic wand. Stressed by small talk. Uncomfortable in the limelight. Bored with your own research. Impetuous when it comes to big decisions.

Whatever your flaws (and yes, they really are flaws in some contexts), consider where they might also give you an advantage. What do they look like in their best, most advantageous form? You’re not signing up for anything by brainstorming. It’s okay to come up with some ridiculous possibilities – you can ignore those later, but write them out for now, in case they bring related options to mind.

You’re also not signing up to let flaws be flaws. By considering different contexts, you aren’t making an either/or choice to focus on relentless self-improvement or insistence that you must always be who you are right now.

The goal is to get a list you can reflect on, explore, and further build. So, maybe from your original list you decide that you’re also able to work alone without getting overly distracted, that you don’t need praise to stay motivated, that you enjoy breadth and novelty over sticking to topics in which you feel yourself to be an expert, and that you’re comfortable with risk.

Your new, improved list won’t necessarily suggest specific job titles. It will give you a way to think through how to match your work environment to what might be your least flexible skills and attributes. These are the ones that feel tough to change. So, alongside your other career exploration work, consider how suited the roles or environments you’re considering are to the things that you find toughest to change.

There is no one perfect job out there (says the broken record), but if you can shift to an environment where more of what you already have is valued, you might just enjoy the sweet relief of not fighting yourself.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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