What a privilege it must be to work in a world of ideas! (And to get paid handsomely to do so.) My particular (and peculiar) career—if that’s what you call it—is intimately bound up with academics. Those who know me personally treat me nicely, but the vast majority who haven’t a clue that I’m anything other than a guy who’s helping them get published sometimes forget their privilege is showing. I’m not busting on my homies; I know what it’s like. But I’ve noticed some interesting trends (“turns” in academese) that are fascinating from the point of view of an ordinary mortal with a mortgage and a great deal of anxiety about it. For example, I find catch phrases time and again. (See what I did there?) Academic writers learn that if they buck the conventions they’ll be relegated to presses that don’t enhance your career. All roads lead to Harvard, after all.
All of this is preamble to a curious trend that I’ve been seeing claiming that an idea’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. I read this time and time again, so I began to wonder about the origin of this idea. Now, not even Google understands “what is the origin of the phrase greatest strength is greatest weakness?” but it does bring up about a thousand-and-one websites about job interviews. I’ve had many of these throughout this thing I’m calling a career, and just like everyone else I’ve read that when asked what your greatest weakness is reply that your greatest strength (whatever it may be) is it. The classics such as “I’m a workaholic,” or “I just can’t stop acquiring more x” (and we all need more x), are tired cultural tropes. How did academics pick up on this?
Does it stretch back to Achilles and his heel, or Goliath and his gigantism? Or is it that to admit weakness is to disqualify yourself from a job? A well-meaning friend told me I should go through this entire blog (as if anyone, including me, has time to do that) and expunge all mentions of having lost my job. They should be replaced with insinuations that I’d chosen to leave. “Nobody,” he implied, “likes a loser.” Well, I guess my greatest weakness is that I’m an honest graphomaniac. I write incessantly. Novels and nonfiction books, short stories and essays, and even a learned article or two. I used to be an academic you see. And I was always honest. It was my greatest weakness, if you see what I mean.