How to Find Your Strengths

In 2006 I got fired from my job.

They told me I was being laid off, but the real reason they wanted me gone was because I was very bad at my job…(ok extremely bad!)

I didn’t like it at all, In fact I dreaded it so much that I would stay awake late on Sunday night watching TV, trying to avoid having to go in the next day. I came home to tell my wife about my lack of gainful employment and I tried to put on a brave face so she wouldn’t get worried. With a mortgage, lots of debt and very little savings and many other real worries… she saw right through it. I spent several days just feeling sorry for myself, moping around, and wondering how I got stuck with this crappy situation.

On day 3 I made a promise to myself.

 

I would never again do work I didn’t like to do.

Only one problem: I had no idea how to figure out what I wanted to do OR what I was really good at… And with all the looming bills, I only had six weeks to figure it out.

Fast Forward 8 years to my current business: Every week I get emails and comments with people really struggling with how to “figure it out”. If you are like most people you have no idea how to figure this out either. There are two realities about the answer to this question that most people don’t realize:

  1. This is a lifelong journey that the answer completely changes to based on your situation, where you are at in life, what you want, why you want it, (which means that the perfect answer for you now, likely won’t be in 10 years from now)
  2. There are many dynamic parts to this answer, since your career impacts and influences so many areas of your life you can’t separate it out from your finances, the lifestyle you want, what you have the potential to become great at, and various other categories.

Second only to the people you surround yourself with; One thing, more so than any other, dictates your ability to connect to what you want. If you understand this it provides the pathway to all of the other things you want in your career. The Answer:

 

Your strengths; what you can truly be great at.

I like to call them your signature strengths, those things that you have the potential to be the best in the world at. These are the qualities that make you uniquely you, and once developed and truly mastered they allow you to literally change your life and your career. With over 7 billion people in the world you might be thinking, “Yeah Scott, I don’t have any of those.” But the reality is that you do… you just haven’t spent the time and effort to identify them yet!

 

How to Find Your Strengths

 

So why should you listen to me.

The single handed best way to discover what you are great at is to try lots of different things that are outside your comfort zone.

As you have different experiences, you are able to determine which resonate with you and which do not. As you slowly grow less uncomfortable through repeating the experience, you can start to determine if there is anything about is a strength of yours.

Early on I got more experience than most people ever get and it helped me to increase my self awareness and develop my knowledge of my strengths.

At 21 I was running a business that grew to 22 employees. The business was residential painting as a contractor. I had a marketing crew and a bunch of well intentioned crew members that screwed up stuff from time to time. When you are messing with homes (the largest thing most people will purchase in their lifetime) home owners are not very forgiving. When you scratch their 12 foot picture windows that have a special light dampening coating, they are less than happy. 🙁

I found myself in challenging and extremely uncomfortable situations again and again. What would you do if you booked the largest project of your life and you get part of the way into it and your customer who just had his tooth knocked out in a freak bicyle accident is now yelling at you about your crews not getting enough caulking and demanding his $6000 check back?

Yeah exactly, I wasn’t sure either! When you go through things that make you extremely uncomfortable and are new, you gain valuable input and feedback into your life. This helps you learn what areas are truly strengths for you. Through all this “experience” I learned for myself some of the things I am great at and started learning how to help others do the same thing!

 

The Surprisingly Simple (but Not-so-Easy) Guide for Signature Strengths

I have put together this guide to share with you what I have learned over the last 15 years. There are really only two ways that you learn your strengths rapidly and efficiently:

1. Intentional or necessitated discomfort

2. Feedback (with reflection on that feedback)

That’s it… when I’m coaching, I usually don’t start with this 1, 2 combo because it sounds rather dismal… as in “really that’s what it takes to learn my strengths?… OK then, I think I will go watch The Voice instead”

 

Can You Get Comfortable with Discomfort?

You only learn about yourself when there is new information. There is only new information when you have new experiences and most people only have new experiences when they either have to OR want to.

You can use this knowledge to your advantage. Here’s an example of necessitated discomfort; In my contracting business, I didn’t really get things moving until I started hiring other people and having them depend on me for their job and for their paycheck. I felt like I had to get out there and do the marketing, cold calls and sales (which was really, really uncomfortable for me at the time). I still did it though. I did it because I felt like if I didn’t, I would be letting people down and also did not want the business to fail and really quite frankly was competitive with the other businesses in the area… lots of different reasons.

All of these reasons and more got me through that discomfort in each of those experiences. It was all psychological, but it worked. I learned through this process that I can build relationships very quickly, I learned that I enjoy getting people to trust me very quickly. I even learned that I am very adept at having interactions and conversation that people have never had before (You would be very surprised at the number of times people have told me “wow I have never told that to anyone before”) and none of this would have happened if I had not “tricked” myself into doing it by taking on this responsibility that had discomfort not-so-secretly embedded in it.

Starting the business was intentional (I knew there would be some level of discomfort…didn’t know it would be that much!!!) and keeping sales flowing in was necessitated (I “had to” not just for my sake but for my employees). Either way, it caused me to have new and uncomfortable experiences that gave me new inputs for learning about myself. You can do the same with projects you take on, new jobs, responsibilities at work or home, family obligations… there are lots of places to look for these opportunities.

Strengths Finder 2_0 Happen to Your Career

What if I hate the House Painting Business?

The lessons here really don’t have anything to do with the type of business or work that you do.

Here’s another example of necessitated discomfort: The first time my wife, Alyssa, and I traveled internationally, we went to France and Corsica. Corsica, one of the small islands off the coast of Italy and France, is a vacation hot spot for Europeans… but not for Americans. In fact we rarely encountered anyone that spoke very much English at all the whole time we were on the island. This made it incredibly challenging and uncomfortable, because to get anywhere or find anything we had to get waaaaayyyy outside our comfort zones. We wanted to go on this vacation (that part was intentional) but where we learned the most about ourselves and had the most valuable (and fun) experiences, were when we were forced to put ourselves out there!

The learnings, awareness and confidence that we gained from that trip were almost all necessitated… we had to get around and eventually we had to find our way home to the States.

 

The first secret to continued growth and really understanding your “signature strengths” is to make it continuous.

One thing that I am experimenting with is listing the most important things I need to accomplish (typically 2-5) this week in a very visible space (I use a whiteboard but I also take a picture of it with my phone each week). These are typically things that will move my job or business forward and often are things that make me uncomfortable.

I then literally build those tasks into my schedule each week so it becomes a necessity. This creates a different level of commitment and intention than if I am not doing this. Which means more often than not, I’m putting myself in those new uncomfortable situations (and hey I probably needed to do it anyway) You can do this too.

Try this: Put a pop up reminder on your calendar and your phone so that once a week you are spending just 15 minutes planning out your week and make sure to put some of those things that make you uncomfortable on your calendar for that week. It could be having a uncomfortable conversation that you have been dreading with a co-worker, boss or family member … or making a decision you have been putting off … or doing something that puts yourself out there and you’re not sure how everyone else will take it. … or that thing you know you should be doing (you know that thing) but you seem to get all the easier stuff done first and then, oh wow! you’re out of time, I guess you’ll get to it… never put this stuff on the calendar and commit to it in a different way than you ever have before!

 

Feedback and Reflection are like Skittles… or Mike and Ikes (Your Choice)

Most people refer to getting feedback as getting input. That’s great but for awareness of strengths and the things that make you amazing, it’s backwards.

Think about it this way. If you put a quarter in a candy machine and you get out a bunch of Mike and Ikes or Skittles of all different colors, the quarter is the input and the Skittles are the output.

Strengths and awareness work the exact same way. Your experience (intentional or necessitated) is the input and what you learn from that (Feedback and Reflection) is the output. It’s the reward you get for putting in the quarter. Most people don’t think this way… Most people don’t have a clue about what their signature strengths really are. Do you see a correlation?

So what are some ways to really get the best from your outputs (feedback and reflection)?

  1. Pay attention to the things you get compliments for, or what other people thank you for, the aggregate of all of this will often give you small clues on the things you are great at BUT you take for granted because it’s easy for you (meaning you are really good at it)
  2. Get a feedback partner: this must be someone who is willing to hurt your feelings a little bit if that’s what it means to tell you the truth. If this is someone that you work with (a boss or co-worker) then meet with them on a regular basis 1-2 times per month (if you can’t make that, do quarterly) buy them coffee or get them out of the norm for a bit. Ask them what they have observed and talk through their perceptions what what you are good and bad at. Ask them to describe situations where they have seen it.
  3. Take assessments: There are a million of them out there. Below I describe the 3 that we regularly use with our clients, students and members

Assessments Disclaimer: Action beats assessment every time!

Assessments of any kind can help speed up your understanding of your strengths and your self awareness if used properly, The problem is without any action and application you won’t be able to get anything useful out of it.

Remember learning is comfortable (and enjoyable) for most people… taking the steps you need to so you can apply that learning…not so much! Alright now that that is out of the way let’s talk about some of the assessments we use.

 

Examples of Assessments

Strengths Finder 2.0 – This is a book paired with an assessment that very accurately shares your top 5 strengths categories. It uses the mantra that you succeed because of your strengths NOT because of making weak areas better. I purchase a copy of this book for all my coaching clients if they haven’t taken this recently! Note*** if you decide to purchase Strengths Finder 2.0 to make sure you purchase a new copy because the key code that allows you to take the online assessment can only be used once.

DiSC Profile – DiSC is a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork and communication. DiSC is non-judgmental and helps people discuss their behavioral differences. If you participate in a DiSC program, you’ll be asked to complete a series of questions that produce a detailed report about your personality and behavior. There are A LOT of places that sell DiSC Profiles, this is the one we recommend Many times this is used in teams, but we choose to use it with individuals, because it helps you understand why you behave and communicate the way you do.

A really interesting sub component of the DiSC is that it will typically give you two sets of results; One that is really what you want everyone else to think on a day to day basis and one that is what you revert to in stressful situations (your normal state). This can be exactly the same or vastly different for you. In coaching this helps me quickly understand why people have the barriers or challenges that they do.

These are the two assessments that we work with all the time but there are many others that I have taken that can add value when trying to identify your strengths and expand your self awareness.

Some others in no particular order:

The passion test- identifies the passions you should prominently work with. We often work with this one too!

MBTI- Myers Briggs Type Indicator

True Colors

All of these assessments can help provide insight but without application and reflection they are simply entertainment. And we all know entertainment is great (and a must) but it doesn’t typically help you get where you want to go.

Leave a Comment: What are some of your signature strengths? Or, If you don’t know, what are you going to do differently to find out?

 

About the author 

Scott Barlow

Scott Barlow is the Founder of Happen to Your Career, a company that helps you stop doing work that doesn't fit, figure out what does and teaches you to make it happen! He has been helping people develop their careers and businesses for over 10 years as a Human Resources Leader, Business Development Coach, and Career Coach. With over 2000 interviews experience from his HR career, Scott interviews others telling their story of finding work they love on the Happen to Your Career Podcast. Scott and his wife Alyssa have 3 children and live in Moses Lake, Washington. You can find more about Scott and HTYC at www.HappenToYourCareer.com or If you need help figuring out your career... watch the video and enroll in our FREE 8 Day course here.

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  1. Great article Scott. Have you had any success using positive Affimations?

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