Don’t be a pushover

In my twenties, I was in a bad car accident. As part of my long recovery, I tried a bunch of things, including at one point Rolfing.

During our first session, my Rolfer tried to explain her practice. She talked about fascia, energy patterns, and “vectors.” I didn’t get it.

So she pulled out an album of photos of her past clients, each one standing upright. She asked me if I could see turned-in knees, flared chests, uneven shoulders, tense necks. I could… but not really. At that point in my life I don’t think I had a clear image of what healthy posture looked like.

So she changed tactics one last time, and asked me for each person: “If you had to push this person over, where would you push?” Unexpectedly, this was an easy question. “Right knee.” “Left shoulder.” “Evenly across the chest.” I had an immediate and intuitive sense of each person’s specific instabilities.

Every human system is a yin-yang of potential and consolidated energy. To build our resilience, it’s tempting to work only on our consolidated energy—i.e., our strengths. In fact there’s a major trend in leadership development called “strengths-based” coaching. It can be very helpful for some people, sometimes. But it can also be taken too far.

When we work only on our existing skills, we can become like a weightlifter who only works on his upper body, and never his legs. We might get big and strong, but it’s a particularly brittle kind of strength. We set ourselves up for a mighty fall.

Of course, it feels good to excel at something. And we always have to choose where we want to focus: time is limited, and no one is good at everything. But in life as in sports, a bit of deliberate cross-training can go a long way. In your personal and professional goal-setting, ask yourself:

  • Right now am I working on sharpening my existing strengths or developing new ones?
  • What clues am I getting about what my growth areas might be?
  • If someone were to push me over, where would they push?
  • In each challenging new situation, can I be strong and graceful at the same time?

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