Playing to Strengths Part 2: What do I do about my weaknesses?

I’m working away at some great pieces on the piano—Shostakovich Piano Trio, Bach Toccata in E Minor, Brahms Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 2.   Yes, I play challenging repertoire and eventually do it well.  And when I put my time and focus on learning and mastering these pieces, the results are wonderful.  Yet it takes me a LOT of time to do so.  I laugh when I think about my students who learn these pieces and perform them in no time at all.

What’s the difference?  Their natural talent is many notches above mine. And I have technical challenges that I need to work extra hard on if I want to play this repertoire.  So while I put in my hours of practice and eventually am able to play well, it takes a lot more work and time than it does for them!

All of which brings up the question of what to do to overcome your weaknesses if you want to succeed.

In my last blog post on Strengths, I focused on why it’s more important to play to your strengths than worrying about being good at everything.  But it is also important to zero in on what might be holding you back and see what you can do about it.  

Positive psychology, which heralds using one’s strengths in order to create success, also addresses what to do about weaknesses.
In his book Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching (John Wiley & Sons 2010),Robert Biswas-Diener, a positive psychology researcher, uses the metaphor of a sailboat to show how to balance these two concepts.  If you have a leak—your weakness–, you must fix the leak if you want the boat to sail.  But if you focus only on fixing the leak, you won’t get anywhere! 

Instead, it is the sails—your strengths- that give you the forward momentum:

So what does this mean to the budding music entrepreneur?

1.    Identify Your Challenges

In my class at Yale, once my students have set their career goals, we then identify the challenges to achieving those goals by breaking down the challenges into categories and then identifying the specific areas that they need to work on.  Here are some of the challenges that my students typically encouter:

·      Skills and Education
What technical and musical skills do I need to master in order to be a successful professional?
What languages do I need to learn (a common gap for the singers!)?
How can I manage my time better so that I am able to achieve my goals?

·      Professional Experience
How can I get more orchestral performing experience if my goal is to be an orchestra musician?
How can I get additional gigs to set up my freelance career?
How can I get more teaching experience?
How do I find private students so that I can build a successful private teaching studio?

·      Personal Development
What am I afraid of?
What can I do about my perfectionism?
How can I overcome my shyness in order to meet new people?

·      Career Development
How can I build my network?
How do I create a website?
How do I create a great press kit?

·      Financial
How can I earn money once I graduate?
How do I make a budget?
How can I save more money?

2.   Come Up With Strategies

Once you have identified your challenges, what are your strategies for filling those gaps?

Let’s take time management, which is a challenge for a lot of musicians.  Good time management is essential for musicians since they typically have careers involving multiple projects and multiple revenue streams.   That means staying on top of emails, rehearsals, due dates, and meetings, not to mention the details of one’s personal life!

If time management is a weakness for you, identify what specifically is holding you back:
·      Maybe you lack good organizational skills and feel overwhelmed by too many things on your plate.
·      Perhaps you procrastinate and scramble to get things done in the last minute.
·      Or you lose hours worrying that you are not good enough.

You will then need to come up with the appropriate solution to your particular challenge.  And then see if another strength can help you!

If you are easily overwhelmed, break things down into manageable action steps. Then, decide on your first step.  Often, that is enough to get the ball rolling.

If you procrastinate, figure out the reasons behind your procrastination and then take steps to move into action.

If you are a perfectionist, create your Flow affirmation to answer those voices of negativity,and master the strategies to overcome your paralysis that stems from thinking that everything you do has to be perfect.

Time management skills are something that can be learned and mastered. Yes, this might be a weakness but if it is holding you back professionally, you need to fix that leak in order to allow your other talents to shine and pull you forward!

3.   Collaborate or Delegate

Another solution when you have a weakness is to partner or collaborate with someone who is stronger in a particular area.  If you are collaborating with others on a performance and organization is not your forte, reach out to your partners and see if they can take charge of scheduling.

Or find an accountability partner with whom you can check in to make sure that you are on task and that you do not procrastinate.

If you have taken the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, you will have a report of your 5 top themes.  These themes fall into 4 quadrants of leadership:


  1. strategic thinking;
  2. executing or getting things done;
  3. influencing others; and
  4. relationship building.

For example, if you are strong in the strategic thinking area, that means you come up with great ideas or you love to learn or you can see patterns and come up with new ways of putting complex material together.  In fact, in my class, two of my students had all 5 of their top strengths in the strategic thinking area.  We concluded that it would be best for them to collaborate with people who were good at getting things done or implementing projects so that the great ideas could be translated into action!

Be creative!  After all, if you have set a motivating and inspiring goal, you owe it to yourself to work on achieving that goal.

As for my piano playing, I look for pieces that play to my strengths.  That inspires me to work on the passages that require me to overcome my technical weaknesses.  I have a great teacher to motivate and help me when the going gets tough.  I perform for friends who are supportive and kind.  And I know enough not to make this my profession.  Instead, I get to inspire the brilliant musicians whom I teach and with whom I work so that they can share their gifts with the world!