Everybody’s different, and each individual is a mix of different strengths and weaknesses. One person might be able to take apart a blender, find and replace a shorted wire and put it back together in 10 minutes, but that same person might have a fourth grade reading level. Another person might be able to finish a novel in a day, but also spend 10 minutes every day looking for car keys that are in plain sight. The old saying life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you take it could not apply more. Everyone is sometimes amazing and sometimes much less. Instead of giving in to frustration, it’s important to recognize and appreciate people’s particular combinations of strengths and weaknesses.
Human brains have the amazing capability to specialize in an infinite number of ways. Years of work as a surgeon will make the neurons connecting your fingers and brain thicker and more numerous. Practicing a free throw will build muscle memory and make your body’s movement increasingly accurate and reliable. If you spend enough time studying calculus, the once meaningless jargon will become second nature.
Everyone likes to do well and no one likes to be beaten, thus, people automatically become specialized in the areas that come easily. Those who are good at sports generally play more sports and further enhance those natural abilities, those who are good at math end up taking more math classes and so on. However, it’s also important to practice the difficult things. Mastery of calculus won’t stop a mathematician from spending an hour looking for his car because he cannot remember where he left it in the parking lot, and having the best free throw average in the league won’t stop a basketball player from failing an English class and losing his spot on the team.
The ability of the brain to adapt and overcome difficulties is as impressive as its ability to specialize. Researcher Daniel Dilks’ study of stroke victims in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed the adult human brain has an incredible ability to adapt and reorganize, comparable to the brains of children. Another example of the adult brain’s power to overcome obstacles comes from amputees who have lost their arms, and instead use their toes and feet to do everyday tasks the rest of us take for granted like using a phone or typing an e-mail.
There are few obstacles that cannot be overcome by steadfast dedication and self-reliance, but this reality does not make it appropriate to throw around critical judgments and condemnations every time someone doesn’t live up to our expectations. It’s not possible to fully understand the various events and influences that have made people the way they are, and accordingly it’s not possible to accurately judge them for their shortcomings. It’s not even possible to accurately judge ourselves, so there’s no reason to let anger and frustration make life less enjoyable.
The human brain only has so much space to take up, and inevitably there are some trade-offs. If everyone was great at everything all the time, everyone would be the same, and life would be miserably predictable and unexciting. It’s important to work hard at overcoming our personal weaknesses, but those weaknesses are what make us unique. Instead of getting upset when things go badly (as they inevitably do), forgive yourself and vow to work harder. The next time you get cut off by a bad driver or annoyed by someone’s lack of social skills, remember that person might end up writing your next favorite song, pulling off a game-winning interception for your school’s team or designing the best cell phone you’ve ever had.
Myles Ikenberry is a graduate student in chemical engineering. Please send comments to email@example.com