Does Your Greatest Strength Reveal Your Biggest Weakness?


It’s a typical Sunday when my boyfriend is happy to relax and laze about in the hammock in my back patio — and I join him for about 15 minutes before I get restless and ask what we’re going to do next. This ability to easily relax and enjoy leisure is what I call his “vacation brain.” Very little upsets him; he is generally calm and almost never defensive. There is a flipside to this enviable quality, though. His relaxed demeanor means a certain detachment. He prefers to avoid difficult things and easily puts them out of mind (sometimes to my annoyance).

These opposing traits are two sides of the same coin, or, what I think of as a Janus face.  Janus is the Roman god of motion and transitions. Since these concepts are complementary in nature – starting one thing means ending another, arriving in one place requires leaving somewhere else — Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, one looking to the future, and one to the past. Similarly, our greatest strengths are typically the inverse of our biggest weaknesses.


Coin with Janus head (220)

We all have qualities that express themselves as positive strengths that, in different contexts, can be infuriating to others.  For example, someone that is really well organized and plans ahead, might not be very spontaneous and can come across as rigid. Someone who is kind and accommodating might be happy to please others, but find it hard to express opinions or know their own mind. Or- the opposite- someone who is very self-sufficient and independent, might be unwilling to compromise or accept help.

I find it useful to see these two sides of a person as parts of the same whole. It helps me accept frustrating traits in others when I recognize that they stem from the same place as a trait I love deeply– almost as too much of a good thing.

At work, I can easily see that my boss is great with ideas. I enjoy meeting with her to brainstorm about projects and the direction of our group, but she does not dig into the details and I can get frustrated by what feels like a lack of support. This combination of ability to see the big picture but not focus on details is my Janus face too. I am quick to pick things up, love big ideas and brainstorming new ways of doing things, and doing my job quickly and efficiently….but don’t ask me to proofread anything, or dig too far in the details. I can, but it’s not a strength of mine. If I’m being honest, it’s decidedly a weakness.

Examples of my Janus face feel weightier in my personal life, where cultivating close relationships both sustains me and, at times, enervates me. I’m a very loving and caring friend, and thrive on being helpful to others. As I try to please the many people in my life, however, I easily overcommit and end up scrambling from one thing to the next. Sometimes I find myself feeling grouchy when I feel like other people’s demands and priorities are ruling my life.

These opposing combinations I see in myself– of my helpfulness/overextension, my strong big picture/weak details—this is my Janus face. The good and bad that together makes me me. It’s the things most likely infuriate my friends and family, but also that makes them love me.

Looking at these tendencies as two sides of the same fundamental characteristic helps me accept the parts that feel like weaknesses. I no longer just berate myself for typos or feel terrible when I don’t have the head for details that other people do. These still feel like weaknesses, and they are. I have to compensate for them: I ask for help, I spend more time and effort on details, I horde time to myself. Instead of feeling like these qualities are deep personal failings, however, I now recognize that my strengths are held up by the same foundation that created these flaws. This allows me to see both qualities as essential and valuable; they are the mix that make the whole.

And perhaps each side does truly serve an important purpose. When I feel overextended, for example, and tendrils of resentment creep in, I try to see it as a message that I need more balance. I need to slow down a bit, and take better care of myself, Janus face and all.

Readers– what is your Janus face? I think it helps to start with something you think is a real strength and then ask: does this have a dark side?


Image: Three details from “Gwynne” by Chuck Close (1982), image from B.S. Wise (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. Meredith Watts

    I can really relate to this. I think I have several Janus face paired characteristics. One that troubles me is that I am a good planner and put commitments on my calendar when they are made. This includes regular meetings of groups I belong to. I am reliable and can be counted on to be at the meetings come hell or high water. The other side is that I am censorious of other members of my groups who consider these dates optional. If something else comes along that they feel should have priority, they do the that instead of attending our meetings! Sometimes I get downright furious and have had to apologize hard for times I’ve criticized others for their lack of commitment to the group. Oh, if only I could be the reliable, consistent person that is natural for me but also be accepting and not judgmental when others make different decisions about these dates that I consider commitments and clearly they do not.

    • steph

      Meredith– thank you for your comment! You are getting at something beyond the original piece in how our Janis face impacts how we see (judge!) others and tend to expect them to be similar to us. It also seems like a question about specific expectations of what it means to be part of a group. Thanks always for your thoughtful comments!

  2. Steve Togasaki

    My experience is similar to yours in that I tend to be a care taker and take responsibility for others. This resulted in being involved with my brother in the elder care of six aunts, mother and sister simultaneously. Caring for that many elders, making fiduciary and medical/health decisions took a very heavy toll. Yet it never occurred to me that caring for one’s own health was just as, if not more important. The balance is often difficult to find. It’s important to take as conscious a responsibility for one’s own care as the care of others. We often have a blind spot regarding ourselves, of get so involved that we don’t have time to think clear. The old “put your head down and keep pushing” mentality(a subject for another time).

    • leda

      Steve, such a great insight. Thank you for sharing your experiences. (And do I sense a potential future SA post about the “put your head down and keep pushing” mentality?? Please!).

      Meredith, I know what you mean. I can be the same way. It’s tough to make choices in keeping with our values/characteristics without judging others if they fail to comply with our idea of acceptable behavior.

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