Learning to learn quickly will make you adaptable and it’s a skill for 2017 and beyond. And to excel at what you do, you’ll want to use your strengths because mastering your strengths comes much quicker than fixing your weaknesses.
You might have heard it before but knowing your strengths will be invaluable to you. The promise in knowing your strengths is that you’ll be able to master something much quicker if something requires an underlying talent you have.
This means you will be able to learn and do something much faster than the average person who doesn’t have talent in this area you excel at.
Knowing your strengths can help you in so many ways! It has helped me:
- Hop from one job to another job even though the industries and job titles were totally different. Yes, strengths aren’t about job titles at all! Those are just boxes that society or HR created just so that you fit into their mold.
- Learn a new language by accident in only 3 months
- Gain motivation and confidence to try new things because I know which things I have a better chance at succeeding in it
Now does it sound more tempting to find your strengths? Here’s how you can drill down to it step-by-step.
#1 Make a list of all the orgs, jobs, and positions you have served in.
The first step to finding your strength is to first make a list of the orgs, jobs, positions that you have held during school. These positions don’t have to be paid. In fact, it’s much better if they’re not. It’s much better to do something for intrinsic motivation because you genuinely enjoyed doing it.
Here are a few ways you can approach it:
- If you’re still a student, make a list of all the orgs and clubs that you have been part of
- If you’re an employee, make a list of jobs that you have all held. Don’t screen out a job you might feel is meaningless. For every job, there is some point to it otherwise it won’t be available to you. Employers don’t just create jobs because they want to find someone and pay them a salary.
Make a list — you can go back to as far as you want. If you were that kid who created a lemonade stand when you were five and you loved it? Yes, add that to the list too.
#2 What skills do all these positions have in common?
Now that you have your list ready. Try to pull out your favorite things about each position you were in. A few questions that will help you pull out the common skills are:
- Why did you apply for that position?
- What did you like most about the position?
- What skills did you look forward to using every day?
To me, skills are just as important as strengths (or talents), but you can have two different skills that share the same strength. For example, customer service and sales skills both share the common theme of “communication.”
Likewise, sales and recruiting skills share the same theme of empathy.
At this point, you don’t need to find your strengths yet, but I wanted to give you an example of how it works.
But skills are easy to focus on because they’re more tangible and people speak about skills more often than they speak of strengths. You can probably find a list of skills on your job description (if you can get a copy of that).
But don’t mistake domain knowledge for strengths or skills.
What most people make the mistake of doing is confusing domain or subject matter expertise for strengths and skills. There’s a difference between the two. Domain expertise is usually a subject. It can be something like computer science or law.
Let’s say you’re a lawyer. Most of the time, whatever job you’re in, it’s going to require more than one skill. As a lawyer, you’ll need to read tons of law books and that will be your domain knowledge. People who are Starbucks’ baristas will never know this stuff better than you because they didn’t study it. On the other hand, as a lawyer, you will need to be able to speak persuasively in court. This means “communication” or the ability to “command” can be one of your strengths.
Now can a Starbucks barista have the same “communication” strength as you? Of course! She might be so charismatic that she can persuade her customers to buy more lattes than they can ever drink in a day.
#3 Once you’re able to narrow down your positions to skills, you will notice that a few skills pop up again and again!
Once you have a list of skills that you excel at, you want to begin pulling out the “common themes” of each skill. Can you still dig deeper into finding your strengths? For example, I was a Psychology major in college. I’ve worked in a number jobs and these are all things I loved doing at some point in time:
- Taught a classroom of preschool students
- Behavioral therapist for autistic children
- Human resources with a focus on recruiting
- Inside sales and client services for a marketing software startup
- Freelance copywriting
Now on the surface, these seem like they require different domains of expertise. And really, how can you really transfer from one position to another with ease? The key is to look for common themes in each.
For me, the most basic recurring skill is communication. Why? Because communication is needed for:
- Running verbal behavioral trials
- Screening candidates over the phone
- Working with clients on their account
- Writing copy that sells to customers
- Writing a blog that connects with readers
Some are written communication. Some are verbal communication. Some are one-to-one communication. Some are one-to-many. But it all falls under the umbrella of “communication.” There can definitely be more than one recurring theme in these jobs, but communication was the easiest one to explain to you.
Btw, “communication” is technically both an everyday skill AND a talent according to the Strengths Finder.
Now you might ask, what’s the Strengths Finder?
I’ll tackle that in the next step.
#4 Take the Strengths Finder test to find your strengths.
Ah! I’m obsessed with personality tests if you can’t tell by the major I chose in college. Now I actually never took the Strengths Finder test until this year. So in the past, I’ve relied on my “common themes” exercise to narrow down the stuff I like to do.
And ever since I’ve done that exercise, only good things have happened. Beyond my communication skills, I realized I have I have a penchant for articulation, pinpointing problems, and the ability to learn a new language quite fast. Last time, I realized it only took me three months to learn conversational Mandarin — and I learned it just by hearing people speak it every day.
Anyway, back to the Strengths Finder. You can take their online test which will take about 30-40 minutes. Basically, when you buy the Strengths Finder book, you’ll get a one-time access code to take the test. You get your results immediately, but the best things about this test are:
- They only let you take 30 or 60 seconds (I forget how long) per question. They do this so you answer each question from your gut without overthinking it. This helps with accuracy and pinpointing your strengths. If you can’t answer the question within 30 secs, you lose the opportunity to answer it all together.
- It gives you your top 5 strengths at the end. There is a total of 34.
- It gives you actionable steps to take such as what careers to pick and what situations to put you in to maximize the use of your strengths! (This is honestly the most insightful part.)
#5 Once you find your strengths, you want to take action and get better at your super powers!
Once you have found your strengths, you only want to continue honing in on them and getting better. The point of strengths isn’t that you’ll get better by knowing, but by doing and taking action. Nothing trumps taking action.
Now start to brainstorm things to do that will help you strengthen your talents!
This will require you to use your judgment a bit because you have to think outside the boxes that have been created for you.
If you want to use your strengths to find your purpose, you have to focus on the things that you’re really good and like to do. At this stage, don’t constrain yourself to only listing things you’ve done before. Ask yourself:
- What are some things you’d like to do or try? It can even be things that you deem are wishful thinking.
- Does that require a skill or strength I have?
- Can I get started doing it immediately?
For example, when I wrote this article “The Ultimate Guide to Batching Your Blog Posts Without Losing Motivation”, I broke down the content creation process into five phases. I also mentioned that other than the actual writing phase, I don’t enjoy the other phases as much. Coincidentally, other than the ideating and writing phase, I can probably outsource the other phases: editing, design, and publishing.
Now instead of doing everything that falls under “blogging”, I’m only working on things that I find purpose in. I started this blog because I like to write and share my perspective on things and people read my blog because they want my perspective. Therefore, I can’t outsource the writing phase otherwise it won’t be authentic. It won’t be me.
So if you don’t like to write, don’t start a blog. Start a YouTube channel, video blog, or even a podcast. If you don’t like to deal with detail, find someone who excels at that.
The reason you want to find your strengths is that it will likely help you find your purpose. I believe that purpose is an evolving pursuit, however. So if you wake up and dive deep into finding your purpose, it will be a difficult project to tackle. It also makes you feel like you need to have everything figured out on the first day.
For me, I found and narrowed down the things I liked to do by trial and error. I’m more efficient and intentional about what I do in the last few years only because I know my strengths already. And when you know your strengths, you’re more likely to enjoy the work you do because you’re so great at it.
And when you’re great at something, your clients or managers will appreciate you more. This will make you feel good about yourself at the least. Other unimaginable opportunities might even show up.
The bottom line is: having strengths doesn’t mean you can skip the hard work to get better at something. It just means that mastery for you will come much quicker than mastery for the average person who doesn’t have that strength.