How To Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

strengths and weaknesses

I knew everyone’s secret crush and I wrote them down.

I had a spiral bound notebook with that metal spiral that would poke out and scratch me whenever I carried it. It hurt. But that is the path a hard-core 11 year old journalist / spy must take.

Every day I’d look around and if I saw David looking at Joanna I’d write in my book, “David likes Joanna!” I was 11.

All day long I’d write down what I saw. I’d record conversations I overheard, I’d write down glances two kids would give each other.

Soon everyone realized what I was doing. All the other kids wanted to see what was in my notebook. They’d start screaming at me to let them see. Finally the teacher said, “Let me see that book.” She read it.

“You aren’t allowed to bring this book back into school,” she told me.

Banned and censored for the first time.


At age 12 I wanted to be in the newspaper.

I interviewed many politicians. I’d call up Senators, Congressmen, even the President. I interviewed the minority leader of the House. I interviewed the Chief Usher of the White House.

I interviewed Governors. I interviewed Senators.

I pretended to be sick so I’d stay home from school just in case someone called me back.

My parents hated it. Phone calls weren’t cheap then. I ran up a $600 bill one month. Then $1100 the next. My dad yelled at me, “You are owing us back this money!” and he stopped my allowance.

But then the South Brunswick Central Post paid me $150 to run some of the interviews. It wasn’t enough to pay what I owed my parents.

But I didn’t really care about that.


Here’s what you do:

Write down the ten things you loved doing when you were six, seven, eight, ten, 12, 14, 18, 22.

I loved:

  • Writing
  • Chess
  • Starting businesses (I was on my fourth failed business by the time I was 27). At a young age I was obsessed with reading about Howard Hughes and the topic of “billionaires”.
  • Politics (not the issues so much as the game of it). I loved reading about how elections were won (Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail in ‘72”, Ted White’s “Making of the President” series).
  • Investing (I was reading the Wall St Journal every day as a kid even though I knew nothing about the companies the articles were about)
  • Computers (I tried to build one and failed).
  • Breakdancing (yes).
  • The occult (I wanted to learn how to astral project so I can project invisibly out of my body at night and watch girls changing their clothes).
  • Psychology (because there were so many stories about sex, I read every pop psychology book I could find. For instance, “Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No”.)
  • Advice columns. I was obsessed with reading “Dear Abbe” and “Dear Meg” and “Ann Landers” and I read all the books of the compilation of their columns.
  • Comic books. I collected everything.

All of these things I loved by the time I was 15.


How the Brain Builds Strengths

The brain is always changing. Always forming new connections.

But there are two times in life when the brain forms extra fast connections (sheathed by something called myelin which is sort of like saying myelin creates the paths that are hyper loops in the brain):

A) When you are born. And you need to learn all those good things like eating, walking, etc.

B) When you hit puberty and have to learn all the skills that are necessary to be a productive and successful member of the tribe.

Your strengths are going to plant their seeds during these periods.


I was lost and looking for something to do with my life.

So I wrote down the above list to try and figure out what I could do with my life. This was about 15 years ago.

And then I had to figure out: what can I do with these interests now? With each item I figured out how it “aged”.

For instance, with investing, I could read and learn about all the latest investing techniques and perhaps start a business in the sector. I ended up starting five businesses involving investing and writing six books about the topic.

With comic books, I scripted one out, hired someone to draw it. It bombed. But that’s ok. I did it.

With “the occult” I never succeeded in astral projection. But starting when I was 14 it began a life-long journey into Taoism, Buddhism, and meditation. How did this serve me as an adult?

Other than the intangible ways, one of my books “The Power of No”, was published by one of the premium spiritual publishers.

Breakdancing. Hey! It’s how I work out every day. It’s exhausting!

Writing. I’ve now written 18 books. Working on the next and the next. I’d like to try writing a novel. Maybe that will be next. Oh, and if you are at all curious about my writing process, read this. 

Politics. Someone just asked me to run for a particular party for Governor of New York. Fortunately I was smart enough to say “No” (the power of NO!).

Chess. I played for about an hour this morning. Chess has helped me get almost every job or opportunity I’ve ever had. More than any college degree.

And Advice Columns.

Well…I love writing on Quora!

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  • Angie Clark

    Hilarious. Loved the recount of your short-lived career as a schoolyard spy. I also read the older post about your breakdancing days back in the day. It was a hyperlink. How could I not? You were much cockier back then. Must’ve been the rap influence. Is there anything you haven’t tried?

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  • James Buechler

    I really appreciate all the different list that James has encourage me to do.

    I learned so much about myself. Joan Didion said that she learns what she thinks when she writes it down.

    And of course these lists aren’t so much what I think about as what I stopped thinking about and dreaming about.

    Other lists help me realize what I think about and try not to think about.

  • Sensitive RAB Guy

    go away

  • scott sargent

    James,

    Can you briefly explain how your knowledge of chess helped you with your job interviews? Even though I DESPERATELY want to build my life on choosing me, I have an interview coming up very soon and I need this postion to “bridge the gap” Thanks!