By Kyle D'Souza
For all I talk about living intentionally in my columns, I do a terrible job of it. Whether it’s getting involved in too many things every quarter or indecision over small dilemmas, my “yes-man” psyche, one of my greatest strengths, can often be the very thing that overwhelms and fails me time and time again. Over the past few months, through luck and reflection, I have become more aware than ever before of my weaknesses. And, while my “yes-man” attitude and my stubbornness may very well be changeable, for me, the real question is whether changing these characteristics will inextricably change who I naturally am, both the good and the bad.
My time in Chile has likely been the first time that I’ve really gotten to sit down and learn about myself: the good, the bad and the ugly. Speaking in a different language with a host family and trying to balance a new culture with your world back home truly brings out your limitations. Whether it’s not being able to fully understand all the jokes on the dinner table, stymied by my lack of Spanish fluency even after eight weeks or (for now) always being seen first as a “gringo,” I continue to be simultaneously mesmerized by the power of language and made aware of these limitations and how they affect me. I’ve learned that, while a smile and a few thoughtful words and actions can still go a long way while hanging out with a date, flailing around during salsa class or sliding all over the muddy football pitch, I have internalized the limits of my language and cultural newness and have thought long and hard about how to work around this language barrier.
In the same way that studying abroad has made me cognizant of my limitations with regard to language, these cultural limits have made me vulnerable in dramatically new ways, allowing me to better understand my weaknesses. From the air pollution or the mob at the metro making me easily annoyed at times, to the close-quarters living with a new family and a group of 28 incredible students, Santiago keeps me vulnerable and offers me a unique glimpse into my greatest weaknesses. Thus, over the past few weeks, while I’ve seen myself at my best, I’ve also seen myself at my worst. I’ve witnessed myself lack empathy and consideration for others, display stubbornness and dismissiveness and get easily annoyed. Moreover, whether through journaling every night or getting feedback from friends and family, I’ve been able to see how people perceive me, both the good and the bad, and get the first glimpse of how my actions impact others, regardless of intention.
After all of this intentional journaling and reflecting, after figuring out all of my weaknesses, from being a procrastinator who’s always late to someone who can be seen as unintentionally dismissive of others’ views, I’m left feeling stuck. On one hand, I can work hard to think hard about all of these flaws and slowly take them out of my life. However, whether I like it or not, many of these flaws are what make me unique. Whether it’s my relentless enthusiasm, my obnoxious laugh or even my flaws, so long as these things are natural to me, who am I to change my natural self?
This week, I had a super important interview, and it was going great until the final question, the classic “What’s your greatest weakness?” It’s such a strange question, when you really think about it. You’re trying to get a position, and your interviewer is asking you exactly the question where your answer, if the weakness is great enough, may be prohibitive towards you getting the job in the first place. Thus, while I don’t think I’ll ever know how to respond to this question, this time I decided to be fully honest, talking about all the research I’ve done on my weaknesses and, unfortunately, sharing my list of greatest weaknesses right in front of the person in charge of hiring me. However, when I told her some of my weaknesses, my interviewer simply laughed at me. It was the first time she had ever received a list of honest weaknesses from a job candidate, and, though I am doubtful I will get this job, I’m glad I have the eccentricity and the imperfections to create a moment that I’ll remember for a long time.
I guess the bottom line of this confusing column is this: We all have weaknesses, and putting yourself in an uncomfortable environment is often the best way to see this come out. Find the delicate balance between removing your weaknesses that hurt others and sticking true to the natural ones that are part of what make you, you. After all, these natural weaknesses for one person may just be the same natural strengths that make you special for another.
Contact Kyle D’Souza kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu.