“What are your strengths?” is a common, sometimes dreaded, question in a job interview. Most of us respond to the question based on a definition we learned as kids: Strengths are activities we’re good at. Simple. Yet, we often end up in careers doing things we’re good at, but don’t enjoy. Even more, the things we’re “good at” may drain us. What gives?
Early in my career, I was the person who did whatever needed to be done. I told myself I was a hard worker and team player. My role as a junior designer required me to participate in all aspects of the process: pitching the client, writing the proposal, conducting research, exploring concepts, giving client presentations, executing the design, making blueprints, managing the project paperwork and billing the client. 😣
I never thought about my strengths or weaknesses (or happiness) as I wanted to be indispensable to my employer.
One day after I finished a presentation, my manager complimented me on my ability to synthesize a wide range of data into succinct strategic insights.
Thank you! Really, me? Doesn’t everyone do that well? (I later learned – no, they don’t.)
Not only was I good at it, I enjoyed the work and it energized me. It was exciting and fun! Soon thereafter, I discovered Don Clifton and Marcus Buckingham’s work codifying a new definition of strengths:
A strength = Something you love doing + that energizes you + you’re good at, or hope to be soon.
WOW. In other words, a strength is something that makes you feel strong. Suddenly, I understood my strengths in an entirely new way. Additionally, I learned that a weakness is something that makes you feel weak – which may include things you’re good at and not good at. Huh? Yes. you may be good at something BUT if it’s draining and unenjoyable, it’s a weakness because it makes you feel weak. 🤯 See how that works?! For me, I was good at synthesizing a lot of information into strategic insights and I loved it. Doing that fueled my energy. That’s a strength! On the other hand, I was highly competent at designing but I didn’t *love* it. I loved other parts of the process more. So for me, designing was a weakness. DING DING DING!
Armed with a new definition and awareness about my own strengths, I was determined to find a way to play to them even more. Initially, this led to a heart-to-heart talk with my manager and a lateral move away from design to a new company as a strategist. I stayed with that same company for many years and continued my strengths quest. Fifteen years later, with numerous promotions along the way, I became the company’s CEO.
Though YOU are the final and best judge of your strengths because only you know how you feel, sometimes another person can hold up a mirror to help you truly see yourself.
A new perspective is what unlocked something for me. That, coupled with self-awareness and self-advocacy, helped change the trajectory of my career. When I no longer allowed myself to be stuck in a role simply because I was competent at the assigned tasks, I pursued what energized me. And guess what? That’s when I started creating more impact – and feeling happier at work and home. ✨