Nathan Gerbe — Turn Disadvantages into Advantages
As I watched the Buffalo Sabres play out seven games of the Stanly cup playoffs this year, one player stood out above most others. His name was Nathan Gerbe, and the man shows absolutely no fear on the ice — playing full speed all the time, throwing his body around, throwing punches, fighting, scoring, showing pure aggression mixed with a brand of extracurricular edginess that is particular to the sport of ice hockey.
The people of Buffalo had their jaws dropped repeatedly from watching an ice hockey player who only stands five foot, five inches tall. Nathan Gerbe is the shortest player in the NHL. A lack of height in ice hockey is clearly a disadvantage, but this fact seemed to drive Gerbe to develop a style of play which utilizes his short stature as a crutch to elevate his level play. In point, if you stand 5′ 5″ in the NHL you need to hit them before they hit you, and this is what Gerbe does as he sticks like a thorn into the meat of his opposition, attacking 100% of the time. He is shorter than everyone, often by a foot, but this disadvantage seems to be used as leverage to wage overtly aggressive, often fierce play.
According to Gerbe:
“The best advice is to never quit. I’m a small player (5’5″), so size is a huge factor for me. Many people said I couldn’t make it because I’m too small, but a lot of people said I could do it. Never quitting is great advice.”
Gerbe’s advantages are that his is a fast skater, a natural goal scorer, his disadvantage is that he is perilously short. Perhaps figuring that he couldn’t make himself any taller he set out to make himself wider — the guy is said to be stacked with muscle, with a massive strength to size ratio. Gerbe is an example of someone who took an attribute that is normally regarded to be a major disadvantage in his profession, and he flipped it around to compliment his advantages: goal scoring and speed mixed with highly aggressive, physical play and incredible strength and peak conditioning makes for an excellent ice hockey player — regardless of height.
I find myself profoundly inspired by watching this guy play. I am not inspired to play ice hockey — no, that fiasco ended with high school — but inspired in whatever I attempt to do. For I know that if I could apply Gerbe’s formula to my own profession that success would be undeniable.
I aim for little more than to be the Nathan Gerbe of travel writing.
Lay out your skills, your advantages, and cultivate them. Lay out your disadvantages, study their cause, isolate them, and figure out ways to twist, spin, and flip them to your advantage.
Bruce Lee claimed that he was nearsighted, so he took up a form of martial arts which focused on close in fighting maneuvers. He also had one leg that was strikingly shorter than the other, so he developed a stance that where this would prove advantageous. In these ways, Lee would creatively adapt his paradigm to suit his disadvantages, and often discovered ways to flip them into advantages — or at least muted the degree of the disadvantage.
My profession — travel writing — revolves around the ability to meet interesting people, make fast acquaintances, find stories, pursue leads, and have the social graces to get behind the closed doors of places and cultures. Sociability, gregariousness, and commutativity are absolutely necessary to advance in my profession, but these traits are those which I distinctly lack the most.
I am not someone who walks into a room with the social guns a blazing. It takes an inordinate amount of effort for me to just start talking with someone. I would not call myself unfriendly, but I am in no way socially aggressive. Before I began writing publicly I would sometimes comfortably go for long stretches of travel when I would not talk to anyone. I am a natural hermit. Each story in this travelogue that has to do with me talking and meeting people were created with great intentional effort.
I know that if I wish to write about travel I must be sociable. I also know that sociability is one of my biggest disadvantages. But, knowing these facts, I can devise strategies to shift my paradigm and flip my disadvantages into advantages.
In point, when I see something to write about — an interesting event, an inviting place, an odd situation, a person who seems to have a story to tell — I am inspired to break the conversational barrier not only because doing so could potentially prove entertaining but also because I know that this sort of action does not naturally become me. Thus, I have an additional crutch which provokes me to act, an insecurity which sparks me to be sociable. Because I know that I naturally recoil from social interaction I am overtly driven to refute these tendencies and force myself into conversation for the purposes of my work.
I force myself to talk to people all day long in travel. I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to start conversations, to ask questions, to get information, and record direct quotes. Each day of travel I make myself go out meet people, do little impromptu interviews, search for stories, and find leads to write about. I know that if I did not take these intentional strides toward sociability I often would not have the stories to write about. So I use my known hermetic tendencies — a real disadvantage in my profession — as a crutch to break out and make social contact, and in doing so I imagine that I talk to as many people throughout the course of a day of travel as even the most onerous blabbermouth.
Like so, I turn a major disadvantage for a travel writer into an advantage.
This strategy can be used for just about any occupation — from travel writing to martial arts to ice hockey. In life as in travel, provenience where you stand, figure out where you want to go, and find a way to get there. Learning how to flip disadvantages into advantages is a major step along this path.
- Know your advantages in a given occupation and further cultivate them.
- Isolate your disadvantages and develop strategies to flip them into advantages.
- Find inspiration in multiple areas of life. Travel writers do not only need to admire and emulate other travel writers, but can follow the model of ice hockey players as well.