Are you thinking of career development, but you don’t know where to start because you are not sure what exactly you want? Start with the question “What are my strengths?” And knowing your strengths will give you a clue to your mystery: “What do I want?“
By strengths, I don’t mean just what you are good at. I mean everything you do, all your (mind) habits and patterns that energize, engage, drive, and motivate you to do even more.
Can you now see the connection between strengths and your question, “What do I want?”. Knowing your strengths is a springboard for discovering what you are naturally best at and what you want. When you are clearly aware of that, then you can apply it in your life, specifically in your career.
What is strength?
Let’s start with a simple formula from Gallup.
Talent × Investment = Strength
Talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Investment means time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base. Strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance.
Real strength is dependent on that underlying talent in order to develop. Without that talent, it is impossible to build strength. Developing talent requires investing time and effort to build knowledge and skills. It becomes a strength when we can do it well, and fairly consistently. Your strengths represent the way your brain is wired to perform at its best.
But strengths do not necessarily relate to what you are good at, but to what energies, enthuses, and excites you.
You have to listen to your feelings and emotions that occur during specific activities.
Marcus Buckingham, the author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work, says we often identify our strengths and weaknesses in a wrong way. We think of strengths as things we’re good at and weaknesses as things we’re bad at. But a better way to think of strengths and weaknesses, Buckingham claims, is to figure out what energizes us.
Strengths make us feel strong and secure; weaknesses make us feel weak. So, he says, one way to identify your strengths is to think about how activities make you feel.
Therefore, your emotions and feelings are distinguished aspects of talents. They are your compass guiding you through this venture called life.
So, if you are good at something, it does not necessarily mean that this is the skill you want to play at. It’s possible to be good at something you don’t enjoy doing or even hate doing, but that’s not the type of strength you necessarily want to improve. Instead, think of the things that energize and excite you, even if you are still learning them, and you don’t excel at them yet. Those may be the strengths you set out to develop and grow. On top of that, also think of the right circumstances and conditions for how you want to use your strengths.
I worked with a client who had amazing results in sales, but he didn’t enjoy it. Actually, for years he quietly tried to get out of it. But because of his good results, everyone in his organization felt like it was a common-sense decision for him to stick to it. Through our coaching sessions, we found out where his joy actually lay. He gets in a flow state when he has to deal with different data, finding the connections between them, and especially if he has to find out how one thing influences something else. He realized that he was so successful in sales because of his high analytical talents. But, to reach his fulfillment, full potential, and full engagement at work, we needed to find the right circumstances for using these talents. It took a lot of self-awareness work, but eventually, as he was finally able to pinpoint where and how to use them, he was able to deliberately create his next career move, which led him to sales analytics.
What you get if you play to your strengths?
You’ll have a stronger awareness of who you are. These steps will give a hefty boost to your self-confidence and, subsequently, your self-trust.
‣ You’ll build self-esteem and competence.
‣ You’ll become more resilient.
‣ You’ll feel more involved and engaged in your work and life.
‣ As you learn to use your strengths more effectively, you’ll also be better able to account for your weaknesses and manage them.
‣ You’ll learn how to set goals and expectations that matters.
‣ You’ll be more able to take risks and make changes.
‣ You’ll improve your interpersonal skills in order to look for assistance and support when needed.
‣ Your relationships will evolve and become more meaningful.
‣ You’ll experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and/or frustration.
By investing in areas where you already have a natural propensity for being good at, you are more likely to develop excellence. Therefore, your most considerable talents hold the key to your meaningful achievements, success, and personal progress at levels of personal excellence. And there is no room for resistance and fears, as it can be almost just a playful game.
By leveraging your talents and working on improving them doesn’t mean that you’ll be niching in that specific area or that you’ll be narrowing down your opportunities, quite the contrary. It means that you’ll be achieving stellar results by leveraging your uniqueness.
As you develop and apply strengths, your achievements will increase, and you will experience more significant and more profound successes. What is important is identifying where those opportunities exist.
And what about weaknesses?
If we choose to focus on strengths, does this mean ignoring weaknesses?
Definitely not. Rather, the strengths-based approach to development is to define, understand, and address weaknesses in the context of strengths.
Weaknesses are an inevitable and integral part of any development conversation about strengths. I like Gallup’s definition of weakness, ” Weakness is anything that gets in the way of your success.” Weaknesses are the specific behaviors that prevent people from realizing the full impact of (and return on) the expression of their strengths.
Everyone, even the most successful and brilliant individuals, has a dark side. We all have some aspects of our personality, of our typical behaviors, that are entirely counterproductive. And if those tendencies are left unchecked, no matter how smart, competent, and talented we are, we take at risk to impede our career. Therefore, weaknesses definitely should not be excused or ignored.
It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as “fixing” a weakness. You can manage a weakness, but you can’t truly fix it. No matter how much time and effort you invest in your weaknesses, they will never develop into strengths.
We simply need to be aware of our weaknesses, take responsibility for them, and then use our strengths to manage them.
Strengths, on the other hand, develop infinitely. They are the source of unlimited increasing performance and substantial fulfillment.
I am not saying it is easy to make a shift in your focus from developing your weakness to developing your strengths, as it was probably rooted in your childhood, but the sooner you start, the better your life will become. Once you start, it becomes your lifelong journey.
“Weakness fixing prevents failure. Strengths building leads to success.” Gallup
How do I determine my signature strengths?
It is not so rare that after we have experienced something negative, we analyze what happened and try to find and understand reasons and their root cause for the unwanted outcome of the situation. But how many times have you contemplated activities that make your heart beat faster and happier?
Have you ever thought what actually happened when you felt energized, confident, fulfilled, satisfied, you were lost in time while doing it, or you were looking forward to it?
These are the times when you were using your strengths. These moments are moments when your best version comes alive. We usually don’t look at them 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.
But what if you do start intentionally creating circumstances when you can use your strengths as often as possible?
You can start discovering your strengths by yourself or with the help of different strengths finding tests. No matter which way you choose, you can use the following steps/actions as your starting point or for an even more in-depth understanding of your strengths. And remember, this is a process, and it takes some work, but it’s possible for everyone, no matter what you do in your life.
Start in the past with Clues to your talents and strengths.
Each “Clue” will bring you closer to your discovery about your natural talents and strengths. You can think in terms of a typical day or week at your work, home, community, society, or you can consider your past experiences in school or previous work environment. As you consider each clue, don’t forget to pay attention to your emotions – when you felt the most energized?
Yearning – a feeling of intense longing for something
Have you ever watched someone performing an activity and found yourself saying, “I want to do that!”
Yearnings, particularly those felt early in life, often indicate the presence of a powerful talent. You look forward to doing something; you’re drawn to it. Yearning is a pull that is felt internally and leads an individual to a particular activity or environment over and over again.
Rapid Learning – you simply just get something
This clue to talent deals with the way you are naturally wired to learn. You may find yourself thinking, “I’ve always known how to do this.” You tend to learn something quickly and stay engaged. Some things seem to come easily to you, and you can’t really explain why. For example, you can speed-read social dynamics, or you can often offer a more in-depth insight into relational or emotional problems. Although you have had little experience in the activity, you pick it up quickly and also usually anticipating the next steps. You may even have difficulty breaking down the steps to explain or teach it to someone else.
Flow – being in the Zone
Have you ever become so engrossed in an activity that you lost track of time? Then you have experienced flow. It is sometimes referred to as “timelessness” – lost in the moments or hours. Get curious about which and what a particular activity makes fun for you.
Glimpses of excellence
Success is a compilation of moments, and it takes a trained eye to notice these moments in everyday life. Listen to these experts, be them your coach, boss, manager, teacher, a family-member, or a friend. In witnessing the activity, one recognizes the display of great talent and can easily see the potential for the development of that talent into a strength.
Pay close attention to the things that people give you compliments on, ask for your help, seek your advice on, or refer to you as the expert in. Even though you don’t appreciate those traits too high, as they come so easily and quickly to you, they are the things that others notice, and they distinguish you from others. You may not consider your kindness, your reliability, curiosity, perseverance, staying calm under pressure as a strength. You take it for granted, but if you get that feedback from others, it means you’re doing things differently than others. You never know, maybe cause of your friendliness and ability to put others at ease you will become one day a great founder of an event planning company.
Then, consider the responses: Do any of the strengths people reported make you feel excited and energized when you exercise them? If so, those may be the strengths you want to grow, especially.
Satisfaction – Sense of Accomplishment
Not all accomplishments give us the same feeling of satisfaction. Some accomplishments give us greater emotional and psychological rewards than others. The pleasure is not just in the moment or in the outcome but creates a person’s intrinsic motivation, and you are looking forward to doing it again. You feel fulfilled and satisfied, which is really important on the happiness level. When you experience these types of energizing experiences, you know a natural talent is present.
Now, take a moment, relax, and look back to your previous jobs, to your time at school when you felt energized, confident, fulfilled, secure, and strong or accomplished after you achieved something. Think of things that were important to you, that you enjoyed, and that stand out for you now as you think about them. It can be anything, no matter how small or big it is – as long as your energy level was high, and you consider it as something important for you. And you stayed with a feeling of great satisfaction and fulfillment.
You might notice that so far, you were not aware of many of your talents and strengths, or you didn’t praise them so much because they came so easily and quickly to you. You took them for granted. But remember, what comes easy to you does not come easy to everyone.
Continue in the present with a Daily Peak Moments Journal.
Because we’re so invested in improving our weaknesses, we too often ignore signs of our strengths.
Start paying detailed attention to what makes you engaged, energized, joyful, or in the flow. Start writing your Daily Peak Moments Journal.
Your job is for at least the next three weeks to drill down into the particulars of your day and catch yourself in the act of having a good time – with as much specificity as you can:
List of a “peak moments” activities
Write down all the activities that have taken your special attention during the day, especially because you felt good while doing it. Ask yourself, “What was the real sweet spot of that specific event for me?” How did you feel while doing it or after the activity was completed? Energized, engaged, fulfilled, satisfied, despite the tiredness, the energy level was very high…
If you had spent part of your day at a meeting, think of everything that you did there, and how did you feel? If you had spent a lot of time on the phone, having long conversations, think which conversation energized you and which drained you, not depending on the outcome of the conversation. And try to answer why you felt as you did.
Talents in action
Continue by recognizing which of your talents were used during each activity. Was it your joy of connecting with new people, or the ability to recognize the source of the problem, or analyzing relevant information, or staying calm and positive under pressure.
While writing down your significant activities, take some time for reflection, look over your recordings, and try to see trends, insights, surprises – anything that is the clue to what does and doesn’t work for you. Especially, are there any common themes or threads you can recognize in your answers?
Too many people undervalue what they are and overvalue what they are not. You don’t have to have a high sense of self-confidence in every area of your life or career; there are always some things that you will never be very good at, and other areas in which you will excel. It’s important to know what truly matters to you and have self-confidence in these activities, and this will lead to a high sense of self-worth overall.
More you consciously think about your talents, more you will notice how your talents contribute to your satisfaction and success. More you see this connection; more aware you will be of your full potential for even more satisfaction and success. Consequently, your awareness and confidence about the question “What you want?” will grow, and your steps toward your dreams will become lighter and more intentional.