When I went to high school my teachers had it backwards. Instead of helping their students to develop the right thinking necessary to solve a problem, they simply encouraged them to have the right answer to a problem. Their answer-based rather than thought-based focus of education amplified my weaknesses and not my strengths. In turn, my observations of my teachers’ motivations were less than welcome.
So, I got out of high school with the belief that I just wasn’t smart. I had no idea what do with myself because I had no idea what my strengths actually were.
After making the choice to explore what I loved, because, well, why the hell not… I learned that I had some strengths that never before seemed like strengths. Ever since this point, my life has been infinitely more fulfilling.
This week’s article is devoted to helping you clarify what your personal strengths are and how you can use them more often in your life and work.
Discover and Use Your Personal Strengths
Many people have the experience of getting a good chunk of the way through their life without really knowing what their strengths are. Because of this, they can feel inadequate, unable to take risks, or just plain unsatisfied. This is especially true for people whose strengths are not clearly defined by our academic and work institutions.
It would be great if as children we were educated about how to see our own innate strengths and brilliance and if our education encouraged us to use these skills. However, this is rarely the case.
The following is a list of questions that will help you get clear on what your strengths are as well as some suggestions about how you can use your strengths to create more success and fulfillment in your life.
What do you love to do?
You’ve heard it before. If you want to be happy do what you love to do. Yet, an often overlooked fact is that what you love to do is also a reflection of your strengths. In other words, because you love to do it you’re likely to do it better. So, if you’re unclear about what your strengths are – do what you love to do.
What do others say about you?
We get feedback from others throughout our lives. This feedback can be very similar at times. We might hear the same things over and over whether they be good or bad. If you’ve heard others say things about you that you like, they’re most likely pointing out your strengths. If you’ve heard things you don’t like, then I suggest that you try to reframe what you’ve heard to be more positive. For example, if others have called you flakey, a positive twist on this would be that you demonstrate spontaneity. If you can’t remember what people have said about you, ask some of the people you trust most in your life what they see as your strengths and why they see them as strengths.
What are you particularly good at?
Sometimes we do something so well that we take it for granted and don’t recognize it as our strength. We often think: “how could this be a strength if it is so easy for me to do?” Yet, our strengths make things easy for us to do. So, pay attention to which things seem effortless and ask other people how they feel about doing them. See how effortless – or effortful – these things are to them. By doing this you will gain a greater appreciation of your strengths.
What do you feel great after doing?
Doing what we love and know we do well leaves us feeling GREAT. A sure sign that you’re using your strengths is that you feel energized after doing something. Once you recognize where and when you feel this energized feeling, you might notice that there is potential for you to feel it more often. To do this, stay with how you feel after doing something you love. Notice what small changes you can make to other things you’re doing that might help you sustain that energized feeling.
What do you do differently?
If you zig when others zag, you might be looking at a strength of yours. Sometimes our strengths have us doing things differently from the masses. So, if you find yourself playing Bach to other people’s three chord wonder then take a moment to figure out why. Since marching to your own beat can be frowned upon by others at times, make sure to give yourself ample latitude to see the value in what you’re bringing forward.
Who do you admire?
If you get totally stumped about your strengths, one of the best things to do is to think about people you admire and why you admire them. This exercise gets us out of our own way. We don’t have to think about our own strengths, we can just think about who we admire and why we admire them. Take this information and see how you can find those qualities in yourself. Even if they haven’t been nurtured, they are likely to be strengths that you possess.
You can also take a quiz like Personal Strengths quiz on Penn Universities Authentic Happiness page https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ to help you discover your strengths.
Once you start to see your strengths you can take any activity – or part of your life – and see how you can use a particular strength to improve your satisfaction and your results. For example, how might I use my strength of spontaneity to strengthen my relationship?