How often do you consider your strengths, what they are, how you can use them and how you feel about them? On the other hand, how would you respond if I asked you about your weaknesses? My guess is that you would respond much more readily to the question about weaknesses because that is how we are trained. From a very young age, we are taught to focus on our weaknesses and to work to improve them. Rarely are we told to focus on our strengths. When asked about strengths, people are often stumped. Not only do they not know what their strengths are, but they are surprised that anybody would be interested in them.
I have a stack of books written about strengths, most of them are through the Gallup Organization. You may have heard of some of these titles: First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman; Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.; Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham; StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath; and Soar with Your Strengths by Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson. The last title is an audiobook I have been listening to when I drive and was the first book out (1993) in this list. This book has been on my mind and is a reminder that we focus too much time and energy on what we don’t do well vs. on what we do well.
At the beginning of the book, there is a story about a variety of animals, all with different skills, abilities and things they enjoy doing (strengths) who get together and decide to start a school so they can all learn from one another. One of the examples is of a rabbit who enjoys his first day of school because he got to run and hop, both are things he loves and are strengths. When it came time for him to take a swimming class, he nearly drowned and decided he hated school because this was forcing him to focus on a weakness. The teachers had a meeting about him and wanted him to put in extra time practicing. If he didn’t do better, he would fail the class and would have to take it again. He ran into the same problem with the flying class. When he had his running and hopping class again, he loved it and excelled! He was made for it as it played to his strengths! The other animals had similar experiences – being expected to do something as well as another animal who was designed differently and had different strengths.
How much time have we spent trying to fly when no amount of remediation, self-discipline, scolding, shaming and yelling were going to cause us to sprout wings and be able to fly as perfectly as a bird? What if the world allowed us to use our strengths to excel instead of expecting us to improve our weaknesses? How would we experience life differently? Would we love our work instead of feeling like it is “a grind” that saps our energy and takes our joy? How often have we known somebody who excelled at their job so much that they were promoted out of it, into a position of management where they were unhappy and not at all suited to it? No matter how much training they were given, they were a rabbit who was expected to sprout wings and fly. They were unhappy, their talents were not being used and they were told that this is how successful people are rewarded!
What if this same person was rewarded for excelling in his or her position and allowed to run their race using their strengths? What if they could focus on what they love? Can you imagine how much happier and more content they would be, not to mention how much more productive?
Consider your strengths now. What do you love to do so much that you can lose yourself in it and have no concept of time? When you are doing this, you are “in the zone” and want to continue doing it. You feel energized when you do it and know that you do it well! Is there any place in your life that you get to use this talent or strength? If not, can you think of a situation in which you could use your talent?
If you are having difficulty thinking of your strengths or talents, ask somebody who knows you well. They may offer you some insight that is useful. Look back over your life and consider the activities, hobbies, work, classes, etc. that you enjoyed. Also consider taking the StrengthsFinder 2.0 online questionnaire to discover your top 5 themes. If you buy the book, you will get a code to use. If not, you can buy a code online. When you discover your strengths, find a way to incorporate them in your work and your personal life. Notice how you feel when you do this. You may rediscover a part of yourself that you have been missing. If you are a flyer, fly! If you are a swimmer, swim! If you are a runner and hopper, run and hop! Stop wasting valuable time focusing on the things you don’t love and don’t do well! Discover your strengths and soar!
This article was posted in the Coach's Corner of the ASTD Newsletter for March 2016. You can reach Kolleen through this website, Linked In, Facebook or by calling her at (402) 499-5547. She offers workshops, small groups and individual life coaching on a variety of topics to help you create the life you dream of but haven't been able to achieve.