Written by Sharon Lee
Here's a true story about someone who was burnt out from her job and life situation. Her name is Sharon. Sharon woke up exhausted yet anxious because working at a job where she was unhappy and overwhelmed drained her of her energy before the day even began. She was often eager for Mondays to come around so that she could confront issues that arose over the weekend, all in an effort to maintain her workload. These weren't life threatening issues, no. These were very non-life threatening, sometimes even just high level administrative, issues. Even though she knew that she needed a change she just didn’t know what she wanted to do next. The phrase that kept replaying in her head and in conversations was, “but I don’t even know what I’m good at”. Or similarly, “I don’t even know what I’d do”. And the nagging winner, “I don’t have any skills for any other job.” When you’re in a rut like Sharon, or rather, I was, thinking about what else you could possibly do or what else you’d even be interested in becomes a rhetorical question. It’s just a tape playing on loop.
After several heart to heart talks with mentors and close friends, what I ultimately realized was that I didn’t actually hate what I did as a profession. I just didn't enjoy how I was practicing it because I knew that I wasn't tapping into my potential and playing into my strengths. Nobody teaches you this at school or on the job. Instead, I was focusing hard on pleasing other people and making sure that I didn't look "stupid". That's not to say that I didn't learn some important skills on the way up - I certainly did and I'm so thankful for the opportunities, even the bad ones (in hindsight. Wayyy hindsight). But I knew that there was more that I could do for myself, it was just hard to imagine change. Eventually, I came across the book Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Some of you may be familiar with this book and maybe you’ve used it, which means you understand its "magic". This book contains a code for you to take a strengths assessment and then gives you your top 5 strengths with an explanation of each one and ideas for action. It's is a bit like the Meyers-Briggs test that was trending hard a few years back (and even now), in the sense that it gives you more insight into yourself. What I like about Strengthsfinders is that it's a call to action rather than just an understanding of yourself. For me, knowing my 5 strengths helped me narrow down what I was good at and that same year, I decided to really lean into those 5 strengths. That was 3 years ago and I can say, it totally changed my career, my relationships and how I practice now.
What is a strength? “A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.” (from Gallup)
After I took the assessment and read over my results, I realized that I always inherently knew what my strengths were but I wasn't able to clearly articulate them and I certainly didn't know how to use that power. If someone had asked me during an interview, "What are your strengths?", I would have been able to rattle off some of them, but I don't think it would have been a true picture of who I am, what value I could bring, and how I could use them to better myself or my employer. Side note: This is similar for the "weaknesses" question - you should also know what you're not good at and learn how to supplement those weaknesses, seek help, delegate and at the minimum, be competent in those areas if your job or goal calls for them. Once I knew my strengths, I started thinking of areas in which I wanted to improve and quickly began implementing these changes. I also built relationships with clients and other professionals in my industry and connected my colleagues with these professionals, growing my and their network (which is always a plus). The year I identified and used my strengths I made more connections with others, changes in myself and the way I approached my career and life, than I ever had before, and I was rewarded and recognized for these changes. I also became much more confident in how I presented myself in any situation because I knew what my God given strengths were and I wasn't afraid to take risks.
As I briefly mentioned, Strengthsfinders also helped me by giving me the language and the tools to articulate my strengths and value to other people, including interviewers. Once you are able to identify your strengths, it will become a part of your story and when you know what language to use to describe your strengths it will come across to everyone. Key Point: You have to learn how to tell your story without sounding arrogant or condescending. EVERYONE has strengths. You’re just telling someone what yours are, not that yours are better than anyone else’s. Being able to articulate how you are able to bring value is a highly important skill to have and to continually sharpen, because it becomes less about selling yourself and more about just being yourself. Most importantly, the strength based language you adapt will become the story you tell yourself about you. This is crucial.
Everyone has strengths and everyone has value to add, but these do not all look alike. When you are able to identify and lean into your own strengths, and when you are able to identify the strengths in others, you are better able to create or find environments that bring out the best in you and those around you.
“I don’t even know what I’m good at”? Take the assessment and find out. Then start talking to others about your strengths - do they agree? What areas can you see yourself using these strengths? How can you use these strengths to find a new job or to improve your current one? My suggestion would be to test them out at your current job or relationship and see how it goes.