I’ve always had a tough time with math.
My dad was a doctor, my brother was pre-med, and I had planned to follow in their footsteps, so it was frustrating that I didn’t have a natural knack for numbers. I felt I understood the concepts in class, but I could never perform well on tests.
In college, I was diagnosed with dyslexia.
The condition explained my difficulty with testing but didn’t make me any less driven to become a doctor. My inability to master organic chemistry, however, seemed to suggest I wasn’t going to get into medical school.
One day during a chat with my organic chemistry professor, he confided that chemistry wasn’t initially his strong suit, either. He told me he decided to pursue chemistry because he wasn’t great at it, and relished the challenge. As result, he brought a different perspective to the field than all the chemistry savants, which ultimately made him a more uniquely well-rounded teacher.
In the end, I didn’t do well enough in organic chemistry to have a decent shot at medical school, but my academic investment into those pre-med classes gave me a deeper understanding of the “healthcare side” of healthcare entrepreneurship, which in turn makes me a more effective healthcare entrepreneur.
It’s natural, and a lot easier, for people to pursue careers that cater to their innate skill set. But if you’re on an entrepreneurial path and you avoid strengthening your weaknesses, you’re doing yourself a disservice when it’s game time.
When it came time to look for jobs after college, I thought a lot about my chemistry professor’s advice. I knew I wasn’t good at math, so I took a job as a research analyst at a tech company. The job involved crunching numbers on Excel all day, and my dyslexia caused me to mix up the numbers more often than I’d like to admit.
It just didn’t come easily to me.
After a while, I figured out a few tricks that made my work more efficient and in the end, the job gave me a proficiency in math and quantitative analysis I never would have had otherwise.
Now, I’m a natural marketing guy who’s decent at math and financial modeling, which gives me a bit of a unique perspective. When I’m faced with a new marketing challenge, I can use my financial know-how to conjure up a data-driven, creative solution.
As an entrepreneur, you are better served if you can bring a wider range of skills to the table.
Identify the areas where you’re not as naturally gifted, pick one or two, and diligently round out your skillset.
If you have a broader range of skills, new and better opportunities will present themselves — often, opportunities that are completely unexpected.
Before applying to business school, I took the GMAT a few times. Given how tough math had been for me, my preparation was directed at the test’s quantitative sections.
By focusing on my weaknesses in college and in my first job, I was able to wrangle a good enough GMAT score to get into Wharton business school, an MBA program famous for being quantitatively rigorous. While I’ll never be a math wiz, my dedication to becoming at least proficient enabled me to attend one of the strongest business schools in the country.
You never know when a skill you previously hated or found difficult, might impact your next career move. At the very least, getting a good handle on your weaknesses will give you more options than you previously considered possible.
Everyone can benefit from getting outside of their comfort zones and learning new things, but it’s a particularly important characteristic for leaders at early-stage companies.
By its very nature, entrepreneurship constantly puts you in new situations in which you have to learn and adapt.
In the early days of your company, for example, you’re likely not managing many people. When you scale, you’re suddenly expected to manage hundreds of employees — an entirely new skill set.
The more well-rounded you are, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the entrepreneurial uncertainties that lie ahead. And if you’re persistent in your efforts and take the time to acknowledge your personal growth, addressing your weaknesses can become fun. In the end, you can look back and compare who you used to be with who you are now, and see how you’ve become a stronger, more well-rounded entrepreneur, ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
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Originally published on Medium.