How to Optimize Your Strengths

“The key to human development is building on who you already are.”

~Tom Rath

Have you ever taken notice of how much time you spend focusing on your weaknesses and shortcomings? I always find it interesting in therapeutic settings when I’d ask a client to list ten positive qualities. The pause is telling. Then, I’ll whittle it down to five positive qualities. The pause remains. However, if the client is asked to list ten areas to change the floodgates generally open. 

We have been conditioned to focus almost solely on what is, “wrong.” Now, I am in no way suggesting that personal growth is not critical. Growth is essential. I am suggesting that we consider growing our strengths and building upon those. Is it possible that weakness can become a non-issue? 

It’s fascinating how corporations and progressive executives have embraced the power of optimizing the strength of their teams. By focusing on strengths organizations increase engagement, improve company culture, and positively impact the bottom line. These are all great outcomes. I believe these same principles can be leveraged to create a more fulfilling life.

Identify your strengths 

As a recruiter, I have spoken with hundreds of college students of all ages that have no clue what their strengths are. They will visit my booth and want to give teaching a shot. One tiny problem: they don’t necessarily like children. Not a strength. On the other hand, I have been on campuses and engaged engineering students that never really wanted to be engineers (parents made them do it). They spend several summers teaching or tutoring students and discover their strength and passion for teaching.

Time and money are both important resources that should not be squandered. I am convinced a lot of career dissatisfaction is a result of the wrong fit. The same is true in our personal lives. The energy is spent focusing on the negative. Minimal time is spent on targeting strengths and celebrating who we are. 

So many tools available to get you started, Strengthsfinder 2.0  But it’s also helpful to identify 6 people you trust to give honest feedback (2 co-workers, 2 friends, 2 family members). Ask them to give you feedback on three-five things you do well.  Identify themes and analyze if they ring true. It usually does.  

Leverage your strengths

My career began in the classroom. I never thought I’d ever become a teacher in residence working on compensation reform or a recruiter of teachers. I didn’t know the first thing about recruiting and the deep knowledge of marketing involved. However, I knew one of my greatest strengths was building relationships. I immediately planned a listening tour with targeted colleges, personalized emails, calls, hosted Chat & Chew events and fostered collaboration.

I didn’t have a marketing degree but I love creating efficient processes, filling the gaps by collaborating with creatives. Throughout my time, I have worked in various environments both positive and toxic, and have served with leaders that have been an asset and some that have been a liability. Regardless of the culture and climate leveraging your strengths allows you to thrive wherever planted.

 Make room for your strengths 

The data doesn’t lie (unless fudged) employee engagement and dissatisfaction is at an all-time high. Most industries are experiencing talent wars, even during the current pandemic. According to smarp, a leader in improving employee engagement and communication reveals, “69% of employees say they’d work harder if they were better appreciated and 81% of employees are considering leaving their jobs.” What does this have to do with your strengths? Great question.

The chances are you fall into one or both of the stats shared. Whether you’re ready to leave or want to stay, make room for your strengths. Take a second look at your job description, your workday, and your activities outside of work. Find opportunities to sharpen your strengths. Reach out to other teams and collaborate on meaningful projects. One year I reached out to the feeder middle school. My goal was to collaborate with the 6th-grade team on ways to close the academic and social gaps of our 5th graders. It gave me the opportunity to continue building my capacity and that of my team. 

It is never too late or too soon to identify your strengths and build a professional and personal life that honors your authentic self. Disrupting embedded patterns of thinking is far deeper than checking off my recommendations. But, I believe that committing to start here will motivate you to continue moving in the direction of optimizing your strengths and more importantly your life. 

Wellness Warrior!

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