Thursday, March 8, 2012

THE RACE: Your Sliding Scale of Abilities

There are several things in my life at which I'm not very good.  And if I were to be honest, there probably are more things that I'm not-so-good at than things I'm really good at.  I've never really been superb, off-the-chart, kick-you-in-the-ass fantastic at anything...But of course that's my opinion based on my comparisons of me to other people.

On the flip side, however, there are a lot of things that I do fairly well, or at least average to above average.  Because of that, I've always been a bit of a multi-tasker, never really specializing or becoming outstanding in any one thing.  I think that's why I like triathlons so much - instead of focusing on being a really good runner, I could be decent at three sports and end up doing pretty well over all.

Among the list of things that I don't do very well are math and swimming.  And if you want to really drive me nuts, try to have me add and keep track of laps and distance while I'm swimming!  Growing up I always had good grades, straight A's in high school, etc.  So I never totally sucked at math, but it was a real struggle for me. And I certainly never took any classes beyond basic algebra because I knew it just wasn't going to sink in.  Math, numbers, economics, anything having to do with figures, just doesn't register very well in my brain.  Never has, never will, and I'm fine with that.  I get by, I can balance my checkbook, and one of the main reasons I became a lawyer was so that I didn't have to deal with math (I'm totally serious).

I've learned in the past couple years that swimming is along those same lines for me.  There are just some things about swimming that just don't sink in for me.  After three years I still don't really know what the "catch" is or how it's supposed to feel.  I can't figure out for the life of me how all the different parts of my body are supposed to work together to make me a stronger more efficient swimmer.  My brain just can't tell my body how to be coordinated.  I never have been and never will be, an outstanding swimmer.  And I'm fine with that.  I get by, I make up time on the bike and the run, and as long as I don't drown, then I consider it a good swim.

What my diminished abilities in math and swimming have made me realize is that there always are going to be things that are lower on my ability scale than others.  To some people, not being very good at math or swimming or whatever would be considered a "weakness."  I don't like that word.  It's too negative.  It seems to take too much away.  To me, every single thing you can do - no matter how well you can do it - is an ability.  And those things that you aren't able to do, aren't a weakness; instead, they're either an ability that you just haven't learned, or things you don't need to learn.

I like to think of my abilities as existing on a sliding scale.  My scale probably goes from 0-20 rather than 0-10 because I just need more variation.

My sliding scale of abilities...that I could think of off-the-cuff...

Abilities like math and swimming - which I am able to do - are lower on the scale, like at maybe 8 or 9. Hopefully over time, my swimming will progress to an 11 or 12.  Maybe someday it'll get up to an 18 or 19, but I don't expect it to, and I'm fine with that.  Being able to play guitar is at a big fat zero right now, but not because it's a weakness - because it's an ability that I haven't yet learned.

Abilities on the lower end of the scale...
Running, on the other hand, is more like a 13-14 for me right now.  And I know I'll be able to get that up to a 17 or 18.  Being an attorney is probably at a 15.  Being a friend/family member/girlfriend/doggie mommy, are the highest end (at least I hope they are!).

Abilities at the higher end of the scale...
Everyone has abilities and how you rate your abilities on your sliding scale shouldn't be done according to what other people's abilities are.  The values on my sliding scale are what they are because that's what I feel my capabilities are.  Notice I said "capabilities."  I like that word because within that word exists the word "abilities."  I don't know what the dictionary definitions are, and I'm not even going to look; instead, I'm going to assign my own meanings that make sense to me.

Abilities are what you currently possess.  I have the ability right now to do zero pullups.  I also have the ability to run 5 miles.  Capabilities, however, are your capacity to do something - your capacity to have an ability.  I have the capability or capacity to do a bunch of pullups.  I also have the capacity to run a marathon.  I just haven't fostered those abilities yet to achieve what I'm capable of.

So even if you can't walk, don't judge your abilities by what others can do.  Judge your abilities by what you, yourself, are capable of.  If you can't walk, you may be capable of pushing yourself in a wheelchair fast enough to complete an Ironman - which I've seen people do.  So while your ability to walk may be low on the scale, your ability to roll your way through a race could be as high as 20.

More importantly, our abilities aren't just physical, or mental for that matter.  I know some very bright, intelligent attorneys who probably rank themselves very high on their scale for intellect, oral advocacy skills, writing skills, etc.  But, in my opinion, they should rate themselves very low on the scale for emotions.  They haven't fostered their ability - although they are quite capable - to be loving, kind, giving, or humble. Conversely, someone who has what society deems to be a mental disability, may have the ability to love, give, and be kind that goes well beyond what any scale could measure.

So take a good look at all of your abilities - the traits, characteristics, qualities, functions - that you currently possess. Don't think of any of them as a strength or weakness.  They are all abilities, some just rank higher on your scale than others.  Then take a look at your capabilities and see if there's anything that hasn't yet made it onto your scale.  Do you need or want to foster that ability?  If so, then just get it on the scale - who cares for now where it falls.  If you don't need to have that ability, then don't worry about it.  For example, most people don't know how to calculate Pi.  If you don't need to have this ability, then who cares if it's on your scale.

Taking all your abilities into account, step back and look at how varied your scale is.  Note that some of the things that are lower on your scale, might just need to be that way to allow other things to be higher on the scale.  At the end of the day, it's not about getting all your abilities at the top of the scale.  It's about recognizing all of your wonderful abilities, and allowing you the room to continue to grow and evolve if you want to move some of them up - or even down - on the scale....

What's your sliding scale look like? 


Anonymous said...

We all need to be reminded not to compare ourselves to anyone else. While it's good to have (and set) examples, we need to remember that we are our own competition. Do something better today than yesterday....doesn't matter what that "something" is.
LOVE YOU!! (more today than yesterday!!!!) see how easy that is???

Jen said...

This post reminded me of a favorite quote I remind myself of often:

"We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing. Others judge us by what we have already done." - Longfellow

P.S., I love your blog. I thought of it today when I went to pick up my daughter at school. There were a few girls sitting on the sidelines watching other's play and it reminded me of your recent post.

Life Through Endurance said...

Hey Jen...I love, love that quote. Thanks for sharing. And it really means a lot to me that you like the blog!! I love reading yours as well!!

And Mom - I love you more every day too.

Carilyn said...

Love this post! There must be something about our "lawyer" (analytical) brains, because I love to make similar charts :).

Totally agree with your assessment and I would add, after a basic level of talent (innate ability), it all comes down to how hard you're willing to work - not a very glamorous proposition, but it seems to hold true.

Shawn anderson said...

Michele...well said! I love rate a 20 in my book for writing abilities! Thanks for verbal using your thoughts! It gives me hope in many areas that I am certain that I can accomplish if I just try!!!! I am a whole hearted believer that God gives us unique gifts and talents but he also gives each of us the ability to learn and develop in these areas however I agree with you that with determination and willingness to try new things, most of us are fortunate to achieve in areas that we may think are not possible, as long as we believe in ourselves!!!! Thanks for the great reminder!!!!

Life Through Endurance said...

Carilyn and Shawn - thanks so much for your comments!
Carilyn - yes what is it about us lawyers! I turn everything into a chart - even a flowchart - if I can! And you're totally right about the hard work...Guitar playing is very low on my sliding scale b/c I haven't put ANY effort into! Or into my swimming for that matter!

And Shawn - if anyone can show that you can accomplish what you think you cannot, it's you! You inspire me more than you know my dear friend! xoxo