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As children we are in awe of super heroes. We might pretend we are them, or at a minimum, have some of their super powers. As adults we are in envy of super heroes. We might fantasize about having particular super powers or dream up some of our own. The truth is we all have our own version of super powers. They are known as our strengths.
You may know some of your strengths well or you may not know them at all. Either way, the important thing to know is we all have them. Chances are the more successful you are in a career, the more you are playing to your strengths.
Reasons why you may not be aware of all your strengths varies. There may be socialization or cultural issues that cause us not to highlight our own individual strengths such as bragging or being self-centered. Sometimes we are not aware of our strengths because we have not spent time in self-reflection or we may be self-conscious about accepting compliments. You may be in a job that doesn’t play well to your strengths so they are undervalued or undeveloped.
You may even be wondering what a true strength is. That is because being good at something does not necessarily mean it is a true strength. This is recognized by Alex Linley in his definition of a strength as a:
“pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (2008, p. 9).
Natural talent is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to be considered a strength. If an area of effectiveness is not energizing, it is likely to be merely a “learned behavior”, not a true strength. If what you have been practicing so often is not also energizing, then it is just learned behavior. This means that you likely won’t be able to reach a level of optimal performance with it because it is an activity that is actually depleting you, not energizing you. Have you ever tried really hard to get better at something at work and you improved, but still found you weren’t as great at it as someone who it seemed to come naturally to and they were clearly energized by doing it?
A strength is something that you are naturally innately good at. When performing on projects and tasks using your strengths gives you energy. Strength is something that is easy for you to do. Another way of putting it is that strengths are things that we got lost in doing. Some people call it “being in the zone” or flow. You are doing it so naturally that time passes without you realizing it.
Think of compliments you have received that you are most proud of. Not only am I good at this but other people notice. Think about reverse engineering the question. What do others do easily that I find difficult and how have I developed a way to work around this? Your “work around” may be one of your strengths. Or it might be the “flip side” of one of your weaknesses. For instance, I may naturally be disorganized but that may mean I’m flexible and able to work well in an unstructured work environment.
If you regularly come back from work demoralized or dejected, you are most likely not using your strengths. As well as strengths, every person finds some things innately challenging. Although we can do things we find challenging for short periods of time, if our work is based on those things, we will likely suffer and struggle. When you are playing to your strengths you will find yourself passionate about your work. You’ll find it easier to renew your energy and set yourself up for success.
There are many tools available to help you identify your strengths. There is a comprehensive intuitive tool, My Career Design Studio, which helps you identify your personality preferences, natural abilities and assess the types of skills you would like to use on a day-to-day basis. The program then goes a step further by providing options for careers that utilize your strengths and industries that may be a good fit. It’s called “career design” because it takes you through the process of designing your ideal career fit. The program even walks you through designing your ideal day and takes on the task of creating an individualized work/life balance option.
In the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, authors Buckingham and Clifton have performed extensive research on discovering and utilizing your strengths in career development. They write that an individual should be careful not to limit their strengths to particular fields, that, in fact, they found people with similar strength profiles in a number of diverse fields.
For instance, their research found that for people who identified as journalist’s listed “adaptability” consistently in their top five strengths. One evening they may find themselves huddling in extreme weather outside a hotel in Florida waiting to interview survivors of a hurricane and the next day they might be back in the office finishing up an article on rising inflation. The mental whiplash many of us would feel given these constant changes of subject, tone and location are characteristics that makes these individuals blessed with “adaptability” feel energized.
In career design, it’s important to utilize the sum of your talents, not to just focus on one. It’s the synergy of your strengths that will lead to the most success. Leveraging your strength turns work into a pursuit of passion.
Identifying your strengths can be a challenging task. We are conditioned at school not to focus on how many we got correct but on the problems we got wrong. Chances are at work you are spending more time fixing your weaknesses than growing your strengths.
Nothing is more futile than “waiting to be discovered”. It’s not realistic to expect others to uncover your strengths, interests and career goals. If you own your individual career development or as a career coach helping others to own the same, you can take charge of it the way you would a project at home or a commitment to your spouse.
It can be tempting to focus on your limitations when faced with a difficult task like career designing. Using the process of elimination can make it easier. Instead of beginning with what you do best, you rule out options for which you lack the education, experience or contacts. This self-defeating process grossly limits what you can achieve. It takes your career growth outside your personal sphere of influence. By, instead, focusing on your strengths you can succeed professionally in situations others might perceive as impossible. Making the impossible, possible, is within your grasp. Which begs the question: which superpowers do you have after all?