We’re all guilty of asking “What am I good at?”
We want something or someone to have that answer for us: Just tell me what I’m good at and what I should do with my life and career so I can stop worrying!
Unfortunately, too often when we ask this question we look outside of our own intuition and guidance with the hope that feedback from a boss or a colleague can give us the validation we need.
This is semi-helpful at best and damaging at worst.
So let’s talk about how to really get clear on your strengths.
Why It’s Time to Stop Asking Yourself “What Am I Good At?”
I’m going to contradict myself here but one indicator of our talents does come from external resources.
What are people saying? What do your friends, colleagues, or family members compliment you on? Are you the go-to person for _____ (fill in the blank)?
As I got older and started college, I’d hear others tell me I’m “really neat” and “hard working.” Or, I’m a “great listener.”
These compliments may sound silly or obvious to us, but these are transferable skills that we can tell stories around and build on.
For example, being neat can mean you’re organized, which is critical for almost every career. Hardworking and a great listener? Always strengths that can apply to every job.
The benefit of paying attention to what others say is we understand how others perceive us. We know which of our strengths are visible, so we can think about leveraging those strengths, creating stories around them, and transferring them to a career-setting.
However, hitting on my original point, others’ opinions are one, small indicator of our strengths which we should apply with caution.
Like friends and family can compliment us and tell us we’re great at something, they can also do damage by saying we lack “natural” talent. (Those who love us may mean well but they can do damage nonetheless.)
Although we’re born with certain aptitudes, I’m a big believer that the majority of skills and talents can be developed.
For example, there’s the “entrepreneurs are born versus made” argument where many believe entrepreneurs are born with the skills that determine success, such as the ability to sell, intelligence, and grit.
So what happens when we believe we’re “just born” with something? Meaning, we’re born with the ability to be creative, or we’re born with the ability to write or sell or dance or tell a good story.
This can be dangerous territory because we can shut the door on an opportunity.
I’ll never be a great singer, but I do believe (and know) you can develop grit, intelligence, and sales skills, at least enough to get you to where you want to go.
Furthermore, if it’s an area that we really can’t develop, we can always supplement a weakness with support.
For example, maybe you’re very creative but struggle to organize your thoughts, and organization is a key requirement for the job you want to apply. How can you make up for this weakness? Perhaps it’s working alongside someone who can help you create a system for your projects.
It’s important to know our strengths. But, rather than ask ourselves “What am I good at,” let’s ask, “What do we want to do?”
We can then figure out what it takes to do that. What are our strengths and weaknesses in this context? How can we leverage our skills and create buffers for our weaknesses?
This is a much more powerful question that can open doors to talents we may not know we have.