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.
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.
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?