Can Knowing my Strengths Really Help me to live a better life?
Knowing your strengths gives you insight into how you work and certain tasks come easy, while others rub you the wrong way.
From the perspective of a job search, career planning or even mapping out a career calling, the greatest gift strengths spotting gives you is self-awareness and the ability to craft a value proposition that is attractive to your ideal employer or client.
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Often times we think of our strengths only from the point of view of our concrete education, skills and experiences. However, our most powerful strengths tend to relate directly back to our natural talents; you may not need a significant amount of skill or training to excel at something that is a natural talent. [Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in the effort!]
Your natural strengths illuminate why you end up enjoying certain tasks more than others or why a certain activity might be supper easy whereas it’s a real headache for other folks. Understanding your strengths allows you to leverage them to create a career you love.
When I leverage my knowledge of strengths to write a resume or LinkedIn profile, my clients often tell me things like: “Reading this is like looking in the mirror!” or “I feel like a new person, confident in what I can do!”
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Building Awareness from Strengths
In general, knowledge of our natural talents or strengths creates three crucial areas of awareness critical to career success.
The first is the perspective. Sometimes we have a strength that someone around us sees as a weakness or that they simply don’t understand. From this person’s perspective, often a parent or teacher, you are weird or your “strength” is an anomaly that needs fixing.
For example, I worked with a client on the autistic spectrum with a strengths in deliberation, analytical and intellection. He’d been underemployed from age 18 to 25 and some people in his past had perceived his ability to focus on solving a problem as extreme — however his dream job was in cybersecurity and he turned out to be the perfect candidate.
When he got the job, I as the coach got a lot of praise, but the reality is that the client was the perfect fit for his ideal job. What I did is provide him the opportunity to see his personality and interests as strengths and from a new perspective, which gave him the confidence to go after the job he wanted. He went from really feeling down on himself and his potential, to finding a dream career, simply by seeing his talents in a new light.
Another common mistake that I see clients make is to assume that because a particular strength comes to them so easily — they assume is meaningless or not important. For example, a software engineer that excels at understanding abstract concepts and connecting the dots to create a new solution might not appreciate her skill; however, her peers may have to take multiple steps to grasp an idea she grasped instantaneously. Just because YOU think something is easy, doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone. And if it is easy for you and you enjoy it — then you need to make this known to your ideal employer!
Once you know your strengths you can appreciate your uniques combination of talents as a gift, which empowers you to intentionally leverage these to create a life and a career you love!
The ultimate result of seeing our natural talents in a new perspective is the gift of confidence.
Say you have a strength in strategy. You always see the big picture and come up with solutions, but you doubt your abilities because you think you don’t have enough “experience” or “education” or something else.
When you read the profile for “strategic” you suddenly see that you’ve got something other people don’t have; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on becoming an expert in your field, but it can give you the confidence to speak up for the patterns and the solutions that you see today.
Recognizing that you are good at something and that you enjoy it is crucial to finding work you love — if you can demonstrate both confidence and joy in what you do — your ideal employer or clients will be knocking down your door to get you.
Sharing your talents with the world is generous. Keeping it hidden is stingy.
Yes. I believe you should enjoy your work. Perspective and confidence work together to deliver you work that you enjoy. And when you enjoy your work you feel joy. Why? Because when you find work that is both appealing to you and that you are good at you can find work that gives you the right mix of “challenge + skill” and this leads to experiencing flow.
Think about times in your life that you’ve gotten lost in your work or another activity. When you get so engrossed in an activity (not sleep, or Netflix, mind you) that you forget time — this is called flow. And periodic experiences of flow lead to higher rates of satisfaction at work.
Which brings us back to perspective — sometimes when we have a skilled at a particular line of work it results in promotion after promotion until one day you find yourself in a leadership-seat.
For some people, this is great, because although they are good engineers or teachers or whatever, they also love to lead, to manage communication and to look at the big picture.
But for others, it’s awful.
Earlier this year I worked with a mechanical engineer who’d spent the last three years in management. He was drained and bored. He wanted his old job back and yet every time he applied for a job, he’d get told by the recruiters and hiring managers kept telling him he was “overqualified.”
My solution? Together we went over his strengths and his goals and we constructed a new professional narrative. His new resume emphasized that he understands how to communicate with and support management, but that he is an engineer at heart. He got a successful bite on his first application with this new resume and in a few months found himself able to move back into a hands-on engineering position that brings him JOY and the opportunity to experience flow.
He also understands himself better now and so the next time a management position comes knocking, he won’t necessarily feel obliged to take it. He will be prepared to negotiate for a position that fits his strengths and needs.
UNCOVERING YOUR STRENGTHS
There are a few different ways to uncover your strengths. I like to use a few different methods with my clients.
- Strengths Spotting
- Strengths Story
- GallupStrengths 2.0
When used together these three exercises provide a 360 vision of what you are naturally good at, what you enjoy, and what your peers and managers see as your strengths. Together they give you a platform to cultivate the perspective, confidence, and joy discussed in the previous section.
On the Gallups Strengths Center website they say this:
“Each CliftonStrengths theme sorts into one of four domains. These domains describe how people and teams use their talents to work with information, make things happen, influence others and build relationships.”
If you’ve taken the [Gallup] CliftonStrengths test before, there is a good chance that you did it at work, because knowing an employee’s strengths has shown to lead to increased workplace engagement.
As an employee, if you know and understand your strengths, you can direct yourself to work in which you readily engage, maintain your motivation, and grow. If your boss or co-workers know your strengths (and their own) you can work together to optimize everyone’s contributions, increase engagement, collaboration and teamwork.
Why is this important:
Positive self-awareness through focusing on our strengths — what we do well — is a huge boost for our self-confidence. We naturally tend to focus on our weaknesses as a guide to what we cannot do or what we should do better. Knowing our natural talents gives us the vocabulary to describe what we do and the inner strength to embrace it.
Let’s use a sailboat analogy: If your professional self as a sailboat, your weaknesses might be compared to small leaks. You need to be aware of fill the leak(s), but if you put all your focus on the leaks, if you forget to put up your sail (your strengths) you’ll never get anywhere!
As is true with our character strengths, needs, and values, skill strengths and values also often overlap. If we value the skill of judgment and consideration, we may very well have strengths in intellection, analytical or strategic. You can think of your Strengths as your way of “doing” and your values as reflective of your way of “being.”
The best way to find our way of “Doing” is to take the Gallup Strengths Finder.
If you can find a hard copy (new) locally, I recommend doing so, as it’s fun and informative to flip through and read the book now and in the future.
You can also order a hard copy or Kindle* edition of Strengths 2.0 on Amazon or at your local book store; don’t buy a used copy as you will want the one-time ACCESS code include in the book to access the test.
*If you order the Kindle version they will email your access code to the email associated with your Kindle. Make sure to watch your email and request a refund if you don’t receive it in 24-hours or less — it should be sent within a few minutes of your purchase!
The standard report that comes with your book purchase is all you need to learn from your results. I do not recommend purchasing the more expensive reports as they can be a challenge to interpret without a full coaching session dedicated to the Strengths-Finder. For your purpose and mine, the standard results provide exactly the insight and information we need to tell your story!
Disclaimer: The above Amazon link is an affiliate link, which means that I will get a portion of the sale. I do not have any other affiliation with Gallup. I use this test because it is informative and highly useful.
Finding Your Purpose
My strengths combine together to create an entrepreneurial profile and a mentor or coach profile (surprise!). I am strong on strategy and easily connect the dots, find solutions and understand how to make things better. I am an individualizer and a maximizer. I naturally see what is right and what might be done better. I am strong in communication and discovering a clear understanding of how each individual works.
In my twenties, I tended to “hop” jobs every 9 to 18 months as I got bored quickly. I’d start out loving a job, but once I’d learned all there was to know, improved a few systems, hired new and better employees, updated training manuals and had everything running smoothly I found myself bored and ready for a new challenge.
I thought there was something wrong with me. My parents thought I was wishy-washy.
My parents just wanted me to get a job and stick with it, so they could be confident that I was financially safe and secure. And then I did the Strengths Finder and I realized I needed a job that continued to present me with challenges. I went back to school to work on a master’s degree and got a job as the Executive Director of an International Nonprofit.
That job was amazing. From the day I walked in the door, there were problems to solve, relationships to cultivate and nurture. Every day was new and different. I could have stayed in that job for years, had I not had to make a value-based decision to follow my husband to Europe (I couldn’t take my job with me).
Knowing my strengths and understanding my values has been incredibly powerful because together they give me purpose. Whether it’s working with an NGO or as a career coach, I thrive when I get to help others succeed. Connecting the dots, asking powerful questions, supporting people to find confidence and joy in what they do thrills me.
In the end, combining my strengths and my values, I am purpose-driven.
How Can Strengths Help You Tell YOUR Story?
Whether you find your life purpose on your own or with the help of a career coach — you will find a deeper meaning in your work. You will feel empowered to choose your path and you will find that many responsibilities in your life now bring you either a greater sense of joy or you find it easier to say “no” to things that do not serve your purpose.
The US Department of Labor has been tracking employee engagement for nearly 20 years and for the last 5 or so, LinkedIn has gotten involved. I won’t bore you with the precise numbers, but what they’ve found is that a good 60 to 80% of employees are not engaged at work. Worldwide Gallup makes the claim that only 13% of employees are engaged — as in 87% might jump ship at any moment for a better opportunity.
And they are not particularly happy — they live for the weekends — and for their life outside work. As someone who has connected my life purpose to my work as a career coach, these results make me sad. However, they also inspire me to help people like you understand how to find and negotiate for a work situation that you love.
Indeed, I find hope in their findings that employers who support employees in leveraging their strengths and job seekers who seek jobs aligned with their strengths fall into the category of ENGAGED and HAPPY employees.
And so, the biggest gift you can give yourself in learning and understanding your strengths is that it can help you turn your job into a career you love and possibly even a calling. If we spend most of our waking hours at work, then we should enjoy and even love our work.
Life Purpose and Career Coach
The connection between knowing our values (read this) and leveraging them alongside our strengths, is a foundational part of why I am a career coach. If you’d asked me at age 20 if I’d be a Career Coach at age 40, I would have laughed. This is because old school career counseling tried to put people in boxes.
For example, it’s possible that towards the end of high school someone asked you to take a career survey that gave you report about possible fields fo work that you might enjoy.
RIASEC codes or Holland codes were created by a psychologist named John Holland. Supposedly these codes use your personality or psychological profile to tell you what type of job you might enjoy. What they fail to do is to address your values or your strengths. They try to put people in boxes and as a teen, they confused me terribly.
My RIASEC is Social Enterprising Investigative (SEI) and I’ve got my old tests in which they said I’d be a good Forest Ranger, Nurse or Attorney. What? Sure, I love camping and nature, I like to help people and I love a good argument, but every time I tried to throw myself into one of these careers, I came up short. I had ZERO desire.
I was also confused by these tests, because the careers that did drive me, didn’t show up on my test (anthropologist, aerospace engineer or urban planner). I ended up studying anthropology and urban planning remains a hobby (in my dream world).
Long story short — if you went to university to study one subject, but ended up in a totally different career or ended up bored, frustrated or un-engaged, don’t give up on career coaching. It’s just likely that you got a career coach who tried to label you.
What I do as a career coach is to help you to understand what makes you tick, so that you can align your goals and career with work that inspires you and then I give you the skills to ask for the salary and benefits you need.
Career of Life
Many career coaches, such as myself, say that we do ‘purpose coaching’ or ‘strengths-coaching.” As you can likely guess by now, this means we use surveys of values, strengths, needs, and interests to help you answer your own career goals. We won’t put you in a box. Frankly, each profession can have a wide variety of psychological profiles, and in fact, it is your strengths profile that dictates your success sometimes more than your “social” profile.
Extroverts and introverts can excel in the same jobs for totally different reasons. The crucial component of your success at work is that what you do brings you personally a sense of meaning and purpose. We are happy at work when we feel useful. When we see that we accomplished something. When we get the opportunity to get lost in the “flow” of the moment.
So, don’t let an old test like the MBTI or the Strong Inventory or your Holland Codes, put you in a BOX. Your life work potential is in your hands and knowing your strengths and your values, what you want and need from your work and your life, is what can bring you confidence and feelings of success.
And so, if you are ready to ditch your fear of failure at work. Or overcome a fear of success (yes, that is a thing) then I invite you to find out about your values and your strengths. To even create a vision board for your ideal life and career.
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BECOMING YOU: Frame it and Claim It
As a purpose coach, as a life coach, as a career coach, I invite you to BECOME YOU. Liz Ryan, one of my mentors in the career coaching world says of your work history and your professional narrative “Frame it and claim it.”
What she means is that you are uniquely you and that is what makes you an awesome employee. If you know your strengths and you are confident in your skills, then you can do whatever it is you believe you can do. And when we do things with confidence and joy, when our values are aligned with those of our company or our clients we feel alive.
When we feel alive at work, we do good work. When we love our work, we are motivated to set goals, to achieve, to do more, and to recognize our own success. When this happens we’ve mastered the art of self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-care. We know what we need, what we want and what we can do.
When we make a mistake or fail, we know that at least we tried, and we treat it as a learning experience. All this is part of becoming you. And you are the only person that YOU need to be!
Did this article you answers or did it raise questions?
Perhaps you are now wondering if you should quit your job or find a new career?
If that’s the case you can take this quiz on Power to Fly. Should I quit my Job?
Or you might read the book “What Color is My Parachute.”
Additional Recommended Reading
If this article has raised questions that you cannot answer simply by knowing your strengths you may wish to engage a career and human potential coach. Or you might benefit from doing some self-guided coaching and exploration.
The classic book What Color is Your Parachute is useful for folks at the start of their career and those doing career pivots. It’s recommended reading from many retired military veterans and to those who simply feel “blah” about their current work situation. If you’ve done the work on clarifying your values and your strengths, but you are still unsure what career is right for you, check out this book.