Do you, like most of us have a poor sense of your talents and strengths? Throughout our education and careers, there is a lot of attention paid to our weaknesses. We are acutely aware of our faults and deficits, our so-called “opportunities for development.”
There are a lot or “deficits experts” out there – parents, teachers and managers. In fact, most parents, teachers and managers consider it their responsibility to point out flaws and try to help us correct them.
As a result, we become experts in our own weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair our flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by putting emphasis on our strengths, rather than trying to correct our deficits.
Most people choose to study their weaknesses. A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese and Chinese people of all ages and backgrounds the question: “Which do you think will help you improve the most: knowing your strengths or knowing your weaknesses?”
Is Your Path to Improvement Your Strengths or Weaknesses?
According to the poll, the answer was always the same: weaknesses, not strengths, deserve the most attention. The most strengths-focused culture is the United States, but still only a minority of people, 41 percent, felt that knowing their strengths would help them improve the most. The least strengths-focused cultures are Japan and China. Only 24 percent believe that the key to success lies in their strengths.
The majority of people in the world don’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths. Interestingly, in every culture, older people (55 and above) were the least fixated on their weaknesses. Perhaps they have more self-acceptance and realize the futility of trying to be what they are not.
The Weaknesses Attraction
Why do so many people avoid focusing on their strengths? Weaknesses may be fascinating and strangely mesmerizing. But the attraction lies in the fact we deeply fear our weaknesses, our failures and even our true self.
Are you reluctant to investigate your strengths because you fear there isn’t enough real talent, or that you are just average (again, ingrained from education models). Or, is there a feeling of inadequacy, an “imposter syndrome,” and an underlying fear of being found out.
Despite your achievements, you may wonder whether you are as talented as everyone thinks you are. You suspect that luck and circumstance have played a big part in getting to where you are today.
However, if you do not investigate your strengths, or any of the fears and feelings of insecurity, you will miss out on discovering more of who you really are.
Too Close to See?
You’re probably not as cognizant of your strengths as you could be because most of us take them for granted. We are so embedded in our strengths, we are not aware of them as strengths. We think everybody is that way too. It never occurs to us to be any other way; it is just natural for us.
This way of thinking excludes developing our strengths and becoming even more brilliant. You can’t develop what you don’t recognize. You can’t expand what you are not aware of.
Building on your strengths is also about responsibility. You probably don’t take pride in your natural talents any more than you would take pride in your sex, race, or hair color. Natural talents are gifts from God and your gene pool.
However, you have a great deal to do with turning your talents into real strengths. You can take your talents into the realm of excellence. It involves becoming acutely aware, developing an action learning plan, and “practice, practice, practice”. Viewed in this light, to avoid your strengths by focusing on your weaknesses is practically a sign of irresponsibility.
The Courage to Be Brilliant
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…We ask ourselves, `Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” —Marianne Williamson
The most responsible — yet most challenging — thing to do is to face up to your natural talents. It is an honor to have such blessings. Do not waste them. Step up to the potential inherent in your talents and find ways to develop your strengths. Be true to yourself by becoming more of who you really are.
This advice is easy to give and difficult to practice. It is easier when working with a trained professional coach. Working with your coach can make it easier for you to identify your talents and strengths. There are also a number of online self-assessments available to help. Once your five top strengths are identified, you can examine how they show up in your life.
It is a process of a few steps back, a few steps forward, and learning as you go. It is not the same as book learning. The only way to learn about your strengths is to act, learn, refine, and then act, learn, refine. Open yourself to feedback. This means you must be strong and courageous. Personal development is not for the faint hearted.
Discovering your true strengths is the path towards improvement and success. When you pay attention to your deficits and try to overcome them, you are placing emphasis on becoming what you are not. Don’t live a second-rate version of someone else’s life, step up and live a world-class version of your own!