Recently, in one of my business classes we were assigned to read a book entitled “StrengthsFinder 2.0.” This brief, straight-to-the-point book is centered around one central theme—“You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

The author, Tom Rath, explains this statement by critiquing how our culture operates. He points out that our culture is fascinated with improving our weaknesses while our strengths are basically set aside.  We thrive on the stories of triumph and of overcoming the impossible; the underdogs in sports, and the success of the less fortunate. But Rath argues the point that we would be a lot happier, more successful and feel more valued if we focused on mastering our strengths or talents than spending all our time trying to better our weaknesses, an act that is inevitably doomed.

Consider the story of Rudy Ruettiger, the 5’6”, 165 lb man that wanted nothing more than to play college football at Notre Dame. Rath points out that Rudy tried countless times to get accepted into the university, but was rejected time and again. Eventually his persistence paid off and he was admitted. After using that same persistence and begging to be a part of the football team, the coach finally gave him a spot on the practice squad as a hitting dummy. 

For two years, Rudy was at every practice, every weight-lifting session, every team event—he worked as hard as he possibly could and yet, still was unable to join his team in a real game. In the final game of the season, pity was taken on Rudy and he got to join the team on the sidelines. Finally, with one play left in the game and the Notre Dame victory safely achieved, the coach puts Rudy in and he sacks the quarterback. The players go crazy and Rudy is a hero and is carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders.

But Rath asks us to consider what actually happened. Rudy simply did not have the physical ability to play college football for Notre Dame. After devoting all his time and energy to the team and going through two years of physical torment on the practice field and trying harder than anyone, he was given less than 10 seconds of playing time in a game that was already won.

Imagine what Rudy would have been able to accomplish if he had devoted that much time and energy to something that he was naturally able to do. Imagine the things he could have achieved if he devoted his efforts to mastering his strengths instead of his weakness.

Rath ends the book with a story told by Mark Twain of a man that asked Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates who the greatest general was of all time?

“The man right over there,” Peter replied.

“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed. “I knew that man on earth and he was just a common laborer.”

“That’s right my friend,” assured Saint Peter. “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general.”

So in college, find your strengths and devote your efforts to mastering those instead of trying to improve upon a natural weakness; who knows, you just might be the greatest general of all time.