On finding our strengths

What are you exceptionally & uniquely good at?

This question has been haunting me for months now. It started from hearing the advice to “Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses”. And recently I’ve been wisely told to prioritize; to figure out what I bring best to the table and go all-in on it.

That’s a deceptively difficult question to answer.

I’ve always been a generalist. And as a generalist, when I hear things like that, all I can think is “Yes I KNOW, but I HAVE NO STRENGTHS.”

Being a generalist means we spend most of our time thinking, “I know I’m not dumb, and I know I add value…but I’m not particularly good at anything?”.

If you’re a specialist, it can be the opposite problem. Maybe you’re thinking, “This is what I’m good at… but I’m not good enough at it. There’s always someone better.”

This post began from my personal struggle in finding my strengths as a generalist. But I think most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about our strengths & how to best leverage them.

For a long time I thought, “My strength is in being able to do a little bit of everything”. It felt like the world was trying to push me into a box - to pick a “niche”, to find a “thing” & go all in on it. I dismissed the advice to focus on my strengths and continued to do everything.

That worked for a while.

But, as with most things, what got me here won’t get me there.

Being a “jack of all trades, master of none” used to mean “I’m kind of good at everything”. But lately it’s started to mean “I’m literally not good at anything”.

Not knowing my strengths used to be an inconvenience or a fun fact I was missing. Now it’s started to become a huge hole I need to fill.
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I’ve learned two things during this whole process (that I’m still working on):

THE FIRST IS TO LOOK TO OUR WEAKNESSES TO FIND OUR STRENGTHS.

When I was told, “Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses” I thought, “I have no strengths…but I can make an endless list of weaknesses NO PROBLEM.” Then a funny thing happened.

See, when you start mentally listing out all your weaknesses, the natural next thought is, “Holy shit, I’m REALLY bad at A LOT of things. How the hell did I get this far?!”

And that’s a much better question than “What are you exceptionally & uniquely good at?”.

We’re all mostly terrible at most things. But we’ve got a few things we’re each good at that’s carried us through to today.

So ask yourself, what are my most blatantly obvious weaknesses that should’ve stopped me? And how did I get where I am today despite those?

In that answer, you’ll find your strengths.

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THE SECOND IS THAT MOST OF OUR STRENGTHS AREN'T A "SKILL".

I’ve always found it hard to call myself a “marketer” or a “writer” or any particular title really. I never felt good enough at anything to deserve the title, nor did I feel it captured what I really did well.

Titles limit our ability to see ourselves and our strengths in all the complexity it deserves.

When you think about your strengths, don’t limit yourself to thinking “My strength is in writing.” or “I’m good at numbers”. Give yourself the nuance you deserve. Maybe your strength is in asking the right questions and building a relationship with the people you write about to get to the heart of the story. Maybe your strength is in being able to understand numbers and connect them to the real world actions that need to happen.

Most of us don’t give enough thought to what our strengths are and how best to leverage them. But when we do and when we find them… it’s kind of like discovering a superpower we didn’t know existed. Isn’t it?

On gratitude for ourselves

Remember when you wanted everything you have now.

Because one day, you’ll have everything you want now.

And you’ll feel the same.
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But it’s not enough to just remember when you wanted everything you have now. 

We can think, “I’m grateful for what I have.  I’m grateful for the people in my life, the opportunities I live, the freedom I have.” We can journal for months, write down lists of things we’re grateful for every day, and still never feel it. 

Gratitude is fleeting.

Because often our next thought is, “I’m grateful for everything I have now but…”

…what about all the answers I still don’t have?
…what about all the dreams I’ve still left untouched?
… what about all the ways my life still isn’t enough?

What we’re really thinking is, “I’m grateful for everything I have now but what about all the ways I’m not enough?”

…what about all the answers I’ll never be smart enough to find?
… what about all the dreams I’ll never be good enough to reach?
…what about all the reasons I don’t deserve to have the life I have now?

Gratitude is never really about the external. That part is easy.

It’s easy to love the flaws in others. But the flaws in ourselves are our biggest deal breakers. 

It’s easy to appreciate that we have a house to live in. Even if it isn’t perfect, it’s home. But the body we live in is filled with too many imperfections we can’t bear to look in the mirror. 

It’s easy to see beauty in the storms and rainy days. But when it’s our thoughts and emotions we can’t control, it’s not so beautiful after all. 

It’s even easy to laugh at those days when everything seems to go wrong; missed trains, burnt out lights, unpaid bills & all. But those days filled with panic attacks and those days we can’t think? There’s no laughing at that. 

Just looking at our lives for everything we have is only the first small piece of gratitude. It’s easy and it feels good, but it’s fleeting. Of course we should feel grateful for the roof over our heads, the food on our plates, and the people in our lives, but it’s not enough.

To truly feel deep, lasting gratitude that stays with us every moment as we go about our day, we need to be grateful for ourselves.

Don’t just remember when you wanted everything you have now.

Remember when you wanted to be everything you are now. 

Remember when you wished you were strong enough to walk head first into uncertainty like you do now. Remember when you wished you understood yourself as well as you do now. Remember when you wished you were kind enough and brave enough for the relationships you have now. 

We expect more from ourselves than we do from the world. It’s our greatest blessing and our most painful curse. 

When we talk about being content about we have, we’re really talking about being content with who we are.

Until we learn to be grateful for everything we are, we’ll never be grateful for everything we have. There’ll always be a little voice that says “I don’t deserve this. It’s all going to come crashing down”.

Remember when you wanted everything you have now. Because one day, you’ll have everything you want now.

But more importantly…Remember when you wanted to be everything you are now.

That person has come a long way since then. 

On measuring ourselves

We tend to measure ourselves by our achievements. We try to feel good about ourselves & remind ourselves that we're "enough" because of all the challenges we've overcome in the past.

We use our past achievements as our barometer for success. We think, "I must be successful because here are all the things I've done". But the irony is this:

The person we've become BY overcoming those challenges and going through those struggles will never be impressed by those achievements. The person we are now is on a whole other level.

That's a natural part of growth I think.

We'll never be impressed by the challenges we've faced, the problems we've solved, or the struggles we've had. It's like the riddle that's mind-blowingly difficult until you know the solution. Then it seems simple in hindsight.

It's incredible how fast the problems that keep us up at night and seem to turn our whole world upside down become "minor hiccups in the road" once we get through them.

Using our past achievements to tell ourselves "yes you're enough and yes you're doing fine" will never work. If we're really growing and pushing ourselves, everything we've achieved in the past pales in comparison to what we're facing now.

But that got me thinking...

If we're only ever impressed by the challenges we have yet to face and the problems we have yet to solve, why not celebrate those instead?

As they say, the higher you go, the bigger your problems get.

What if, instead of measuring ourselves by the achievements we've had, we measure ourselves by the problems we GET to solve and the challenges we GET to face?

This changed everything for me.

It's helping me reframe those moments of struggle. Those moments when I'm thinking "I can't do this. I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing. Who let me in here?!"

Instead if seeing challenges as obstacles to my goal, they ARE the goal. Instead of chasing achievements, I try to chase challenges instead.

It's thinking, "Holy crap, I can't believe these are the problems I get to solve now!" instead of "WHYYY do all these problems keep coming?!".

That's made all the difference.

Now, when I look back on the version of myself from a year ago, I'm excited. And proud. Because I remember the challenges that almost destroyed me. And I know today, I could handle them without a second thought.

I see the problems I struggle with now and the ones I did then. They're so much more difficult, so much more meaningful, and they take everything I've got. A year ago, I couldn't have even understood the problems I get to work on now, let alone solve them.

There's beauty in the struggle. The challenges in life will never stop coming. The problems will only get harder. So why not celebrate them? Not only that, why not run towards them?

On being "enough"

"For women, shame is 'Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat.' "

I heard this on one of Brene Brown's TED talks recently & holy fuck did this hit me hard.

I always hated (and I still do) when people told me to "relax" or "chill out" because I felt ashamed that I seemed stressed out by the challenge.

Seriously that quote makes me nauseous because it means we find shame was in the struggle. Not even in FAILURE, but in the fact that we were challenged in the first place. How messed up is that?

& it got me thinking a lot about what it means to feel like we're "enough".

I think most of the time (speaking for myself anyways) we default to others for that confirmation- someone validating our idea, someone we look up to believing in us or by achieving a goal we'd set for ourselves. The thought is "if they think I'm enough, then I am" or "if I can do this, then that'll prove I'm enough"

But then what? There's always going to be another challenge, another moment we need that confirmation. And it got me thinking, what exactly are we looking to be "enough" for?

This is turning into an incoherent stream of thoughts but I guess my point is that maybe instead of asking ourselves whether we're "enough" which inevitably makes us ashamed of the struggle, we just ask ourselves whether we're willing to struggle.

That instead of trying to be "enough" to achieve something or "enough" for someone, we just accept that we're enough to walk into this head on & struggle. And to find joy in that struggle too because let's be real, the struggle is the whole reason we're doing all this. What fun would it be if we just got what we wanted?

I'm still wrestling with that concept of feeling like we're "enough" so if anyone's got some good insights there, send it my way 

On taking breaks

Just a friendly reminder that it's ok to take a break😊

Even if you've got big dreams you're chasing, 10,000 things you need to do & everyone's asking you for something - you're still your own top priority.

You can't take care of anything else if you don't take care of yourself 😬

I've always struggled to take breaks. I feel guilty for relaxing when there're so many things I want to do & people I want to spend time with. I think a lot of us are the same. The "hustle & grind" culture is great for getting shit done but just remember that chilling & doing nothing is ok too.

It hit me today that I was completely exhausted. It's funny how exhaustion shows up. It's rarely "tiredness" that sleep & coffee can fix. It's being frustrated at the smallest hiccups, lashing out at the people you love & sometimes, just apathy at life.

I've learned that if I'm not completely freaking excited for life & excited to wake up each day (which I usually am 😊) - it's not life that sucks....I'm probably just a bit tired.

So long story short - it's okay to finish your work for today, grab some ice cream & binge Netflix guilt-free 😉 (that's my plan anyway)