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Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses, to Find Career Joy

Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses, to Find Career Joy

We hear it often…it’s better to play to your strengths rather than trying to fix your weaknesses. While that may seem like a no-brainer, especially when it comes to work and career, it’s surprising how many continue to work against their own proverbial grain.

We’ve all heard about the challenges of trying to fit square pegs in round holes. If you’re in a job where you find that you’re regularly receiving feedback that doesn’t validate you or your work, where your feedback makes you feel like you don’t measure up, where you’re being regularly questioned or cautioned about your performance, or where you feel just plain drained of energy all the time as one of my clients (I’ll call her “Miranda”) did – chances are you’re playing to your weaknesses.

Miranda worked for a non-profit in data analytics. Her job was very transactional, single-task work managing numbers and metrics. Through the coaching process, Miranda realized that, while she was good at number crunching, she felt no spark or passion for it. As she put it, she was starting to feel “dead inside.”

After helping Miranda connect with her strengths through the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, Miranda realized that she was, indeed, that square peg in the proverbial round hole, and that she needed more contact with people. She discovered that the strengths more aligned with her skills and inclinations centered on relationship building – creating customized, personal experiences that helped others raise their game. With this new awareness of her strengths, Miranda was ultimately able to move from data analytics to a fundraising role in development within the same nonprofit.

If you find yourself swimming upstream…finding it hard to get up in the morning…dreading the workday, or the Sunday night blues contemplating a new work week…the following steps can help you on the path to discovering your true strengths.

[Related: Four Practical Steps to Truly Define Your Life's Purpose]

1) Get feedback.

Ask those in your circle of trust for five things you do well. Of the answers you receive, think about the things you especially love – that energize you.

Keep in mind that just because you do something well doesn’t mean it’s a true strength. It’s the energy you feel for the endeavor that’s key. You will compare the circle of trust feedback with your own reflections to identify what truly energizes you.

2) Take a strengths assessment.

There are a number of instruments that can help you determine your strengths. My favorite assessment tool is the Clifton StrengthsFinder, which you can do through a coach, by buying the book (which provides access to the online assessment), or by going directly to the website.

Gallup is on a mission to help individuals and teams leverage their strengths to find workplace success and wellbeing. When you are thriving in a role and playing to your strengths, productivity and career satisfaction soar.

[Related: How to Find Happiness Through Your Strengths]

3) Try a new approach.

Apply your newfound insights – looking at your work life with fresh eyes. When you focus on your strengths, you tap into your innate talents – what you naturally do well – which leads to greater satisfaction in career and life.

Research studies have found that when we’re in alignment with our strengths, we experience an expanding energy that gets us excited about our work. Rather than trying to swim upstream trying to fix our weaknesses and please others, we’re focusing on what really matters to us – ultimately finding happiness for ourselves, which in turn helps those around us.

Our work feels engaging and gratifying, and the time tends to fly by. When we play to our strengths, we have a stronger sense of wellbeing, passion, and flow – often referred to as being “in the zone.”

You deserve to reframe.

If you find yourself in a role where you are constantly being asked to improve or fix your weaknesses, you owe it to yourself to reframe and find an opportunity that honors the strengths you are not using at present. You are not broken, after all – you are simply not in a role that honors your natural talents.

Your energy will be much better invested in a role that allows you to sharpen and polish your natural strengths, than to develop competencies you don’t have in abundance to begin with. The reframe helps you look on the bright side. It’s focusing on the donut and not the hole…it’s making the best of things and honoring the gifts and talents you possess.

In my TEDX Women talk, I harkened back to the dark days I experienced shortly after leaving my career as an opera singer when I was completely at loose ends. At the time, I knew I wanted to step away from the world of professional opera, but I had no idea how I would do anything other than music.

Gradually, by reframing - by looking at my career-limbo through a new lens (with the help of many trusted champions) - I began to see the value in the skills I’d developed as a result of my training and performance experience and began to see how those skills could be transferred into a new, non-music-related profession. I started to focus on what I had rather than on what I’d lost. That vulnerability was my catalyst for change that empowered me on a new career path I truly love.

Consider the Howard Thurman quote that says:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive!

Here’s to following your strengths and coming more alive in life and career.

[Related: Give Grace During the Time of COVID-19]


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. She hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.

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