Growing up, I wasn’t a superstar at sports. I wasn’t the popular kid or the class clown. I didn’t have the best attendance in school. I didn’t perform well on tests. I was intelligent but certainly not the smartest in the class. I was known for being the “lazy” student who was always “looking for a way out.” My parents and I would often hear “Stephanie is smart but she is unfocused” or “Stephanie always has an excuse” or “Stephanie talks a lot and distracts other students.” I was scolded for breaking dress code, being “too much,” and challenging my teachers or even the principal.
With all these nuances, I never faced serious repercussions. I had A’s in the toughest classes. I was always willing to raise my hand in class and participate in groups. I offered to help teachers grade papers or run small errands. I even tutored others that were underperforming, regardless of what grade level they were in. There were times when my classmates were bullied and I was first to stand up for them, even if that meant speaking out in front of everyone. Despite my actions (or sometimes inactions), teachers found it hard to dislike me. They were often perplexed by my actions and just tried their best to redirect me. It didn’t stop in grade school because as I ventured into young adulthood, I found myself in the same cycle, receiving the same commentary.
I spent most of my life critiquing every thought and every action. I would constantly ask myself why I couldn’t just measure up. As a result, I became obsessed with trying to elicit a positive reaction and surpass expectations, without every really addressing my own thoughts and emotions. It wasn’t until I became more self-aware that I truly noticed my strengths. However, it took many years of evaluating every single weakness until I didn’t have any more weaknesses to evaluate!
On this journey of introspection, I learned that I wasn’t “lazy,” I was bored. I found that I enjoy challenges and need to be intellectually stimulated. A lot of those “lazy” moments were because I wasn’t challenged. I knew the material at hand and didn’t understand why I had to continue to learn the same thing. The problem was that I didn’t realize that other students hadn’t yet mastered the material. This disconnect caused me to be “unfocused,” to “look for a way out,” and to “talk a lot” which did, in fact, distract others. I also learned that I wasn’t actually “making excuses,” I was trying to explain from a seemingly unconventional perspective. I was unable to articulate my point of view at the desired pace, and therefore, my thoughts were shutdown before they ever came to fruition.
I viewed my actions as “wrong” simply because I was told they were wrong, and I spent so much time trying to make up for it in other ways.
My years of introspection led to the realization of many strengths. I keep going no matter what; that’s grit. I always perform my best; that’s dedication. I remain constructively dissatisfied and seek challenges; that’s drive. I catch on to complex material quickly; that’s learning ability. I embrace uncertainty and determine what to do next, even when I have no idea what to do next; that’s learning agility.
Here’s one example of how I got out of my head, into my life and put those strengths to work:
- Audit: I took on a new role where prior experience would benefit me at some point. I just didn’t know when.
- Advanced Analytics: I said I could do something before I could fully do it. This is how I was able to sustain my drive while moving toward my vision. It was simple; I made people aware. Failure was not an option.
- Technical Skills: While I had basic knowledge of SQL, Python, Power BI and Power Pivot, I had to obtain a deeper understanding. I read books, took courses, tests, practiced coding, practiced optimization and asked lots of questions.
- Refine and Combine Skills: I had to tailor my freshly polished skillset and determine how to turn data into information and information into insight. To put it simply, I had to piece a puzzle together without having a picture of the finished puzzle.
- Improvise, Adapt and Overcome: I had to quickly identify challenges and pivot accordingly. Sometimes this involved acquiring more knowledge from various sources. Sometimes this involved switching tools because the data was too much for one tool to handle. It always involved perseverance and determination.
I used my experiences to strategize, keep myself grounded and produce results. I remained positive and open to criticism, but I never veered from my vision. The journey wasn’t easy, and the reality is, it probably won’t ever be easy. Sure, I continue to reflect on my weaknesses, but instead of beating myself up for them, I approach my weaknesses with the intent of turning them into strengths. I capitalize on my strengths and make them even stronger. Most importantly, I remain just as in tune with myself as I do with the rest of the world. Anyone can prevail, sometimes it just takes stepping back and reevaluating the bigger picture.