Planning with your strengths

It’s one thing to know your strengths. It is a whole other thing to actually plan your career in a way that intentionally uses those strengths on a daily basis. Self awareness is overrated. There comes a time for action and that time is now. But don’t misunderstand me. Action is hard, and change is hard. As a good mentor of mine would say, “Change is hard. Make it as easy as possible.” So, that’s what I’m going to attempt to do – help you plan to use your strengths more consistently in your career and life. In essence, I’m gonna try to talk you into action (how ironic). Wish me luck.

Quantity AND Quality – Before we start the planning process, let’s set up a good litmus test for an ideal strength-based role. While the goal is to use your strengths as often as possible, no job is going to allow you to use your strengths ALL of the time. You’re always going to have do some dirty laundry in any job. A good ratio to start might be to look for roles that allow you to use your strengths 50% of the time. Move to 80% of your time and you’ve hit the pinnacle of efficiency. Beyond that and you are likely not doing stuff that you should be.

Identify Strength-Heavy Roles – Next, begin to search actively for roles and jobs that would allow you to use most if not all of your strengths at a high frequency. For this step, don’t think practically. It’s o.k. to dream big. The goal of this step is to create a list of ideal targets. Our next step will be to figure out how to get there.

Put a Timeline to Your Move – Step back and look at your current role and your desired role(s). How far is the gap? Maybe you just need to move to a different seat in your current department. No sweat. Tack on a year for that move on your timeline. Or perhaps you are an accountant and you want to teach math to high school students. Hmm… A bigger move. Tack on three years to give you time to prepare. You get the idea. Once you’ve got your timeline, fill in what you need to be accomplishing every 6 months along your timeline and stay focused.

Say “No” to Non-Strength Opportunities – Speaking of staying focused, be prepared to turn down opportunities that are not in your strength wheelhouse. This is one of the most difficult things to do in your career so be careful. The new role may look shiny, but if you aren’t using your strengths, you’ll be doomed to fail. This happened to Judy. Judy was a career counselor at a college and loved what she did. She used her strengths every day meeting with students and advising them. One day, Judy was offered the position of Dean of Students. What an honor. She never in her wildest dreams thought she would have such an opportunity. She happily accepted. A year later, she was miserable. 95% of her time was spent in meetings doing administrative tasks – after all, she was now a college administrator. She was failing miserably and eventually opted to step down from her shiny role. Saying “No” is hard, but critical to your long-term success.

Consider Strength-Based Hobbies – Finally, whether you desire to leverage your strengths more intentionally in your free time or you simply can’t make the moves you want to in your career today (obligations, fear, excuses, fear, fear, fear, I think you see where I’m going), consider choosing hobbies that will more actively allow you to use your strengths. Who knows? You may become so good at your hobby that it morphs into a career.

In the end, self-awareness is all talk. This post may be short, but don’t underestimate its importance, power or difficulty in executing. If you are still stuck, consider these posts on overcoming fear and making the changes in your life you’ve always wanted to make. Get planning and get moving! And as always, you’re not alone. I’m right here to give you a word of encouragement or a kick in the pants – or both. Regardless, it is time…




4 steps to determining your strengths

Determining your strengths isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. Before you get overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to figure out your strengths out on your own, or worse, write yourself off as “strength-less,” consider the following 4 steps:

  1. Ask others – While probably the most uncomfortable step, this approach is the most important. Why? Because you live with you every day. What you consider just “pedestrian,” others may consider exceptional. So how do we find out? Ask them, and don’t leave any stone unturned. Ask your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who may have witnessed some of your magic. For a formal approach to this exercise, consider using the Reflected Best Self Exercise from the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. It’s a whopping $15 so it’s worth the download. Here’s the link.
  2. Take an inventory – The positive psychology movement (focusing on what’s good and productive vs. what’s bad or broken) is a fairly new movement (since the early 1990’s), but a vastly popular one. There is plenty of excellent literature on the subject. One of the more popular resources is the book “Strength Finder 2.0” and the accompanying “Strength Finder” instrument. Consider investing in either or both to start you down the path of assessing whatcha got and more importantly, putting labels on those seemingly fuzzy intangibles.  Here’s the link.
  3. Dust off those awards – Take a step back in time and reflect on your years growing up. What talents did you seem to possess compared to your peers? Where you particularly creative? A great team player? A fast runner? Etc… By thinking about those things that came easy to you as a youngster, you are rediscovering your raw talents. Raw talents are often easier to spot when we are younger because we are on the same playing field (no pun intended) with our peers – no one has the advantage of additional time to refine their abilities. Reclaiming your talents and then repurposing them to fit today is a step not to be overlooked. I took my propensity for art projects and classroom presentations and now use those same talents in my teaching. You should check out my PowerPoint slides – not too shabby if I do say so myself!
  4. Try something new – If all else fails, you might just need to sample off of life’s buffet. It’s possible that you simply haven’t found your strengths yet. Start trying some new things. Here’s the key, pick things you have some natural interest in or passion for. If you recall from an earlier post, we defined the formula for strengths as the following:


You are going to need to like what you are doing enough to invest the requisite number of hours to turn that talent into a strength. Choose things that are interesting enough to explore further and continue to invest in.

Follow those 4 steps and I promise you’ll start to see some of your gifts, talents and strengths emerge. If not, well maybe I’m not using my strengths properly. Physician, heal thyself.


QUIZ – Are you using your strengths?

Before we can get down to the nitty-gritty of planning the perfect role that will utilize our strengths every day, we need to take a step back and assess what are our strengths and are we using them today. How do you know if you are using your strengths? First, let’s define “strengths” and look at a few key indicators.

Strengths Defined

There are plenty of working definitions of strengths. For our purposes, I would offer the following formula:

Strengths = Talent + Time

Much of the work in this area (see: Positive Organizational Scholarship) suggests that our strengths are the product of our raw talents and abilities plus the repeated usage of them over time. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests a very precise formula – 10,000 hours turns a talent into a “world class” strength. While many of us haven’t had an opportunity to invest 10,000 hours into a particular talent, I would submit to you that some of the hallmarks of strengths, in even the rawest of states, are the following (not a mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive list… but a good one!):

  • Speed
  • Quality
  • Requires minimal effort
  • The ability to perform the task at all (not everyone can throw a baseball 99mph)

To that end, I’ve prepared a quiz for you (nothing like a good Monday morning quiz, huh?).

Are You Using Your Strengths? – Quiz:

While answering this quiz, think of a typical day / week at work…

  1. Does the majority of your work come easily to you?
  2. Are you faster than most of your peers in similar jobs?
  3. Do you typically produce results higher / better than most of your peers?
  4. Do people regularly compliment you on your work as if what you are doing is so much better than others in that role (present or past)?
  5. Are you often asked with sincerity “how did you do that?” Can you simply do things that others can not?
  6. Are there parts of your job that are consistent with what you were good at growing up? Ex: math, teamwork, etc…
  7. Are you using multiple strengths in your job?

So, how did you do? If you answered “yest” to at least 5 of the 7, you are onto something. You may not be in the perfect role, but you are darn close. If you answered “yes” to 2 or less, you’ve stumbled into the wrong job. Time to do some self reflection and begin to plan a move… and fast! Stay tuned. The next post offers some of the “greatest hits” on how to discover and identify your strengths.


“I don’t know what I’m good at”

Do you know what you are good at? And I don’t mean “kinda” good at or “sorta” good at. I am also not referring to the things you “think” you are good at (like driving) when in reality, you are merely average (sorry to break it to you – your driving isn’t really that good). I’m referring to what you are really good at. I’m talking about those abilities or skills that you possess that are rooted in your hard-wiring giftedness and your hard work – that wonderful combination of talents and time translating into what we call strengths. More importantly, are you using the things you are good at (your strengths and talents) at your job?

Strengths matter. If we know what it is we are good at and we use those abilities every day, in addition to leading to greater success, it also leads to greater efficiency and greater enjoyment of what we do. Work feels “easy.” In other words, if you ever want satisfaction on the job AND work / life balance, you can’t get there without knowing and maximizing your strengths.

Over the next month, we’ll be tackling the following big questions as it relates to discovering one’s strengths:

  • Are you using your strengths at your job? What are the signs?
  • Do you know what your strengths are? How do you find your strengths?
  • How do you plan your work and your life based on your strengths?

Over the years of working with thousands of individuals in both clinical and professional settings, what’s become clear to me are the following:

  1. Everyone has talents and most of us have discovered some our talents and translated those into strengths (through time, effort and hard work) but few of us have discovered all of our talents
  2. Most people aren’t consciously aware of or able to label their talents and strengths. We use them, but we are largely unaware of their presence and never call them out by name
  3. Most people don’t use their strengths on the job
  4. As a result of #2 and #3, many of us take jobs, or worse, get promoted into jobs that actually prohibit us from using our strengths (the roles require daily tasks that aren’t our strengths)
  5. Work doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it if we intentionally use our strengths every day

So, get your thinking caps on. Discovering and maximizing the usage of your strengths is a tough but worthy puzzle to attempt to solve. After all, who doesn’t want happiness, enjoyment, fulfillment, efficiency and work / life balance? If you answered “No” to that question, we’ve got bigger problems on our hands.