Imagine what it would be and feel like when you have all the satisfaction coming from finding fulfillment and success in your everyday work as you feel you are using and developing your potential at work. At the same time, you are making your significant contribution – the one that is aligned with your values and career drivers. You are living a balanced and joyful life while reaching your success.
This is not necessary just an illusion – the key to come close to it or start actually living this image is to fully understand how to apply your greatest talents and strengths in your daily life. If you want to ignite your potential, then develop and grow your strengths and talents – the power that is already within you.
We all have innate talents and strengths, and they are the source of our positive emotions and feelings, but unfortunately too often they stay overlooked or taken for granted. Instead, we invest our energy, time, and money in developing our shortages – weaknesses.
“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” Rumi
New research by psychologists Andreas Steimer and André Mata shows that people tend to believe that their weaknesses are more changeable and could be lost over time, but their strengths are there to stay. Gallup, based on their research, states that people believe that what comes easily must not be valuable, and what is challenging and takes work must be better.
Therefore, we think it is not that important to work on our strengths, and when it comes to improving our lives, we are more inclined to try to improve where we’re weak since we’re assuming that mastering these areas will provide the greatest growth. Even though improving your weaknesses can lead to only mediocracy. We take our talents and strengths for granted, and unfortunately, they stay overlooked.
But, various studies have shown that when we focus on our strengths and intentionally developing them, we grow faster than when (merely) trying to improve our weaknesses. Researchers found that people who practiced their strengths in this way were happier and less depressed six months later.
Identifying your key talents and strengths is a huge first step, and it’s a springboard for your life journey. More about how to find your innate talents and strengths, you can read in my article, “What are your strengths and how to use them to fuel your career development? “.
This is a significant beginning, but merely gathering information about what your strengths are and not using them deliberately and intentionally in your daily life makes them utterly useless. Developing your strengths to their full potency is the journey, as it won’t occur overnight. It may take a while, but you’ll learn and enjoy yourself a lot along the way.
Aligning as much of life as possible around your top strengths
Probably you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Pareto, an Italian scientist, discovered that 80% of the wealth of his time was generated by 20% of the people. Or with other words, the Pareto Principle holds that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. Conversely, 80% of our work is relatively ineffective.
This principle claims something very profound: It is the little things that account for the majority of results.
The 80/20 rule permeates every part of your life and can also be used in terms of strengths and weaknesses – by focusing on your strengths (20%), you are able to generate your important results (80%). Anything that does not fall in your important 20% or strengths, you should find the way for not doing it or getting appropriate help or support for it.
If you spend most of your time in areas of your weaknesses – I am talking about the areas that drain your energy and allow you to produce maximum mediocracy when working in them – you can feel drained, frustrated, stressed, unfulfilled, resentful, etc. Further on the consequences of your negative emotions are lower performance, lower motivation, procrastination, disengagement in work, lower self-trust and self-confidence, or even illness…
But when you know what you do best, and you spend the majority of your time in activities that enable you to use your innate talents, then it is almost inevitably to experience emotions such as fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness. You feel extremely energized and engaged, or let’s say you are “in the flow.” And consequently, your productivity, performance, self-confidence evolve and grow. Even your daily obstacles transform into challenges as you are able to approach them from a different corner.
Knowing your talents and strengths enables you to create experiences around them.
We usually don’t look at our best moments intentionally and, therefore, somehow happen more or less accidentally. And because we are not able to pinpoint what makes us thrive, it is difficult to control them deliberately.
Once you recognize your talents and strengths, start paying detailed attention to them. Look at where and how they are showing up in your life, especially in what kind of circumstances they can be at its best. More you pay attention to these aspects more precisely, you will be able to pinpoint what energizes you and what kind of circumstances drain you.
In order to raise self-awareness about a specific talent, you can consider the following aspects: What was the purpose of activity while you were using your strengths? Are there any aspects of situations that block or obstruct, or make it more difficult for you to be at your best? What kind of people are around you when that strength is at its best? What kind of people hinder you from thriving in your chosen strength? In what type of environment is that strength at its best (at work/in private time, small groups/big groups, new project/project you have been working on for a long time…)? Are there any skills that you could learn (or unlearn) to make this strength be at its best?
To get the most from your career, you should mold your jobs around the experiences in which you work most naturally, and in which you lose yourself while working. This way, your intrinsic motivation will increase.
Sometimes even small changes can make a significant impact, like shifting your schedule or adjusting how you approach the meetings. For instance, if you have a talent for making things happen by turning thoughts into action, you might become impatient with the meetings where it is all about long discussions and no real conclusions and actions executed. Being part of a meeting like this for you means losing a lot of your patience, wasting your energy, and time. What you can do here to keep your energy level up is to make it your role in meetings to be in charge of action items before the group dismisses. Your drive to make things happen can be the push that many groups need to move from discussion to action. This small shift can help you to stay engaged and motivated during the meeting, and not just waiting for the time passes by that you can finally start with the real work, that is actions.
But, if most of your daily tasks demand to work in your weakness area, then it would be difficult to mold your job in a better fit for your natural strengths and abilities. If you find this is your case, you probably already feel drained and miserable when it comes to your job. And if you are already thinking of making a pivot in your career then start with a deeper understanding of the types of situations in which you excel and which of your needs are met there – this is a critical first step and a springboard for finding a new position or career path that you can thrive in.
To become more productive, engaged, and happy, we need to periodically look at our lives and ask, “What is the 20% of my daily activities that produce the greatest value in my life, and what can I do to increase that percentage?”
Now, think about how you spend most of your time? Map out your typical day/week and find your own percentage – estimate what percentage of time you spend in activities that engage your talents and strengths and how much time you spend in areas of your weaknesses.
Aligning your strengths to your daily tasks still may not make all of them your favorite things to do, but it will ensure that you are losing less energy.
Learn how intelligently use your strengths
Recognizing your strengths can grow your confidence. But the true power of intelligently using your strengths is to be thoughtful about when and how to do what you do best.
Success doesn’t come just from playing to your strengths. It comes from leveraging your strengths in the right way in the right situations. For example, in your company, you are always the one who represents the company and its services in important events because of your excellent verbal expressing and presenting things. But if you use your excellent presentation talents behind the table with your friends and don’t let others speak as well, you can show off as a very annoying person. This is the case of “misusing your strengths”.
Learn when to dial it up, when to dial it down or when it is better not to use it.
Once you become aware of your strengths to develop and grow them further, you need to learn when is required to reduce strengths that are overdone or used in the wrong way or at the wrong time or in the incorrect combination and therefore resulting in disappointing outcomes. Overdoing your strengths hurts your effectiveness just as much as underdoing your strengths. If you are not aware of this, at these times, your strength can turn into your weakness.
“Often, our greatest weaknesses are the other side of our strengths.” Melinda Gates
Are you underplaying your strengths?
Let me share with you my case of underplaying one of my strengths. In general, I enjoy the challenge of meeting new people. My strength is that I can quite easily put people at ease, and quickly build rapport in these personal encounters. It is natural thing for me to show genuine interest in each individual. I believe that I can learn much from others, so I ask them questions, talk openly about myself, and quickly find some common interests. Nevertheless, whenever I had to participate in business events where the primary purpose of the event was networking, I felt unhappy and miserable already a week in advance, and I was prepared to do anything just to avoid these kinds of events. And since I had never intentionally thought about my people-related strengths, I simply just didn’t use them at such networking events. But, fortunately, I came across a strengths-based development approach which helped to make a change in my mindset. After I had become aware of my people-related talents, I was able to transfer this knowledge to these networking-events as well. And, most importantly, it also helped me to change my perspective on these events; I no longer felt like I had to sell myself, so I could relax and really listen to the other people more. My only intention became getting to know the other person better — the same thing I do with every personal encounter in my private life. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate the feeling of being interesting to someone else. I am still working on mastering this because people are different, but at least I don’t dread those events where I have to mingle anymore.
This was the case when my strengths were underplayed. So, what are the most common signs that you are actually underplaying your strengths? You feel the fear of not being good enough, you don’t have enough trust in yourself, you procrastinate, you hesitate, you feel like you are on autopilot, or you feel that there is no real joy in what you do. If you look into the past, you might discover that in many cases, the cause for a missed opportunity was just that – that you were underplaying your strengths.
What about if you take your strength too far?
Sometimes we all overplay our strengths. An employee becomes paralyzed by analysis – he/she over-analyzes (or overthinks) a situation so that he/she doesn’t make a decision or take action, or the empathetic secretary who shows so much concern for others that some of them take advantage of her, or an employee who excels at representing things with great articulation of words doesn’t let others speak as well, or the employee who is conscientiousness and detail-oriented turns into counterproductive perfectionist.
More is not always better. Taking strengths to extreme levels leads to damaging performance, and even a mild tendency to overdo can be detrimental for optimal results.
The cost of overused strengths can be very high: not getting the right results despite putting so much effort into an activity, not getting any right recognition from others, feeling tired, or even burn out, often getting frustrated with other people, becoming more and more impatient. This is generally a sign that your strengths are being overplayed.
Find your balance: Formulate your WHY. Be open to feedback.
To use your strengths effectively and efficiently, start being thoughtful and conscious if you are using the right strength in the right proportion at the right time. Also, consider what your talents look like to others.
You have to be clear on the results you want to achieve and your intrinsic motivation, which is coming from your WHY. Think in terms of what this development would mean for your work/career, relationships, and life in general. If you are clear on your WHY – what you gain from this development – it will help you stayed focused, and it will boost your determination and commitment, which is especially needed in times when you experience obstacles and setbacks.
If you can’t think of where you need to improve on your own, ask other people for feedback. People are usually more open to providing constructive criticism when they know you’re looking for ways to improve. Ask coworkers, spouse, friends,» What should I do more?« »What should I do less?« »What should I continue doing?« But note, it is not just about collecting information, be sure to also apply these insights to the day or week ahead.
When you locked your targets and you want to achieve and leverage the best strengths for the given situation, you’ve hit a golden mean of your strengths.