This is part one of a three-part series on how to uncover, nurture, and live out your unique strengths, or gifts*. Enjoy!
Here are some things I hear a lot as a Career Coach:
"I'm not good at anything"
"I have no talents"
"I have no idea what I'm good at"
"I don't know what I'm going to do with my life"
If you're an average human being, you've probably said something like that to yourself at one point or another. It's a common feeling, this sense of not knowing or believing in what we're good at. There are a lot of people who are trapped in this limiting belief that they have nothing, nil, nada to offer this world - that they have no gifts to bring to the party.
If you believe you're not good at anything or that you have no innate strengths, you're wrong.
I used to buy into this limiting belief, too, and it took insidious forms like "I just need to try harder," or "Success won't ever come easily." I assumed that I just had to overcome my weaknesses, that all it took was for me to sweat out the incompetencies or sign up for another training. I was getting it all wrong, though. I'd forgotten a truth that I think each of us knows within us: that we have something to share with the world...that we've been given gifts in the form of natural strengths, and that gifts are (usually) things that you want to share with others.
One of the most beautiful things about being human is uncovering and bringing to life those gifts that are within you.
Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, "The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them." If you want a career that is enriching and full of ease, then you have to begin to uncover and nurture the gifts inside of you; and this is scary work, because living in alignment with your gifts might mean you need to do something different from what you've spent your life studying or pursuing. But if you've spent your entire life walking the path of most resistance - the path that is not the best use of your gifts, you're probably feeling ready to switch things up anyway.
Living in alignment with our gifts = grace and ease.
People who work in concert with their strengths and abilities are able to create careers that feel fulfilling, enriching, and integrated. They make it look easy. Imagine how an accounting department would look different if it's run by someone who actually hates numbers and wants to paint all day but feels like she needs to make her parents proud v. someone who genuinely likes spreadsheets and was on the Mathletes team in high school. You see what I'm getting at? You're not doing anyone - yourself included - any favors by forcing a career that's just not the best use of your gifts.
It's time to uncover what you brought into the world so that you can a) live in alignment with your gifts, and b) share them with the rest of us.
Here are 5 ways to begin uncovering your unique set of gifts:
- Leave your fixation on weaknesses behind. Right now, today, try to focus less on what you think you're not good at so that you have some energy to focus on what's actually going well. If you manage others in the workplace, stop focusing on their weaknesses so much. According to the Gallup research that's highlighted in Tom Rath's Strengths Finder 2.0, employees with a manager who focuses primarily on their weaknesses have a 22% chance of being actively disengaged in the workplace. Employees with a manager who focuses primarily on their strengths, on the other hand, only have a 1% chance. Start looking at what's working instead of what's not - whether it's in your own life or those that you support.
- Check out some free assessments. If you'd like some insight into where your natural abilities lie, there are a lot of free assessments available online. These are just tools, though - if something doesn't resonate with you, leave it behind. None of these are going to give you a total picture of what you bring into the world, but they do help get the conversation started. One resource to get you going could be this free Holland Code test.
- Take 5 minutes to reflect on what comes naturally to you. Jot down anything in your life that has just felt easy and natural, no matter how weird or mundane it seems. When have you felt a sense of ease in your career, at home, in the community, or by yourself? What were you doing when you felt that way? I bet you'd start to see themes if you could take the time to write down everything that comes to mind.
- Get feedback from others. Someone asked me recently to give him feedback on what seemed to flow naturally for him and when he seemed most in his element at work, which I was happy to do! Other people you can trust are a great way to learn more about what your unique strengths are.
- Be brave and honest. When I thought for sure that I was born to be a floral designer, it was really hard for me to realize that no, actually, I wasn't. It can even feel scary to admit to ourselves that we want a big, vibrant life where we're sharing our gifts every day. Many of us have tricked ourselves into believing that the fulfilling career or the "work that feels like play" just simply isn't in the cards for us. But I do not believe that's true. I know, and have seen, that we really just have to commit to uncovering our gifts - we have to be committed to finding the things that light us up.
I'll leave you with another quote from Gilbert's Big Magic, which I love:
"And you have treasures hidden within you-extraordinary treasures-and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small."
For part two of this series, click here: How to Nurture Your Gifts
*If this topic resonates with you and you're in the Portland area, you might check out a workshop that I'm co-facilitating in February called The Career Jumpstart Workshop. In it, we'll be exploring this topic in much more detail.