“Your greatest weakness is your strength overdone.” — Some Wise Person Whose Name I can’t remember.
In a recent post, I reflected a little on being an 8 on the Enneagram. In it I mentioned briefly about 8s despising weakness in themselves and others. What I didn’t get into was examples of that in my own life—though there are more than enough to spare. Here’s one that shows that I resembled that remark from an early age.
One day when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I was walking down the street I lived on when all of a sudden, a big old dog started chasing me. My initial reaction was what you might expect. I started running my ass off. But at some point when I found myself running past my own house to get away from the dog, I went from scared to angry. Anger is the 8’s most accessible emotion and is where I lean into when faced with situations that I’d rather not be in. Though it is sometimes difficult to tell with me because I am not big on emoting if I can help it.
At any rate, once my anger kicked in, I pretty much went bananas and decided that I was not going to run from the dog anymore and that instead, I was going to chase the dog and if I caught it, I was going to bite it just as I originally feared it was going to do to me. And the dog must have seen it in my eyes too. Because when I stopped running and turned toward the dog, I could’ve sworn that the dog’s face showed exactly what it was thinking—“Oh crap, I was chasing a maniac.” I chased that dog all the way back to its home. And then when I got home, I reviewed what happened and decided that I was never going to let that dog scare me again. And to ensure that I overcame my fear, I thought of the stupidest plan ever. I started going to that dog’s house every day for several days and letting it out of the gate so it could chase me until I got over the feeling of being scared of it. Fortunately, a neighbor caught me and threatened to tell my mom on me before the owner or the dog got to me.
When I made that decision to overcome my fear and came up with a plan (as stupid as it was) to put that intention into practice, I realized that there was something excitedly unpredictable about me that I liked. I had a berserk point that not even I knew where it was. But unlike many people, mine was a calm berserk, a decision—like Bruce Banner deciding to turn into the Hulk. It was a strength—maybe even a superpower. But in time, I discovered that this strength when overdone was also my greatest weakness. But because our society honors people who appear strong, it took a long time for me to even consider such a concept. But other people saw it. One person in particular drew it to my intention without even saying a word. All he did was recommend that I read a book called Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. It is a Japanese epic that tells the tale of a great warrior whose greatest weakness was his strength and ability to defeat everyone he encountered in battle.
When my friend suggested I read it, I thought it was random. But as I read it over several months, I could see what he was telling me about myself. This may sound counterintuitive, but what I have discovered is that sometimes real strength can include knowing how to be gracefully defeated.
There’s this scripture passage that I have been meditating on for years:
2 Corinthians 12:9 – But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
It took me a long time for me to even begin to grasp the fullness of this message because I had become essentially addicted to being strong. And I didn’t even know it until my friend had me read that book. Once I saw it, I knew that there was no going back for me. Sure, I can still default to excessive strength in certain situations. But I now see how this can lead to unintentional harm.
In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors advise about this and have done more research than I have on this subject. So if you are interested in more information, click here. What you’ll see that there are many instances when what we get rewarded for in certain contexts can be damaging in others.
As another wise person whose name I can’t think of said, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” I invite you to consider this as you encounter the inevitable challenges in life. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time and purpose for everything. Sometimes it is a bad decision to do what you’re good at. So pray for wisdom. That’s what I’m doing on this journey. And I trust that as I lean into my weakness, I will come closer to embodying the true strength that only weakness can reveal.
Wishing you well…