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Are You Playing to Your Strengths or Trying to Fit Into the Mold of Others?

Are You Playing to Your Strengths or Trying to Fit Into the Mold of Others?

Remember the fairytale about the ugly duckling? The one in which a gorgeous swan is derided and bullied for not being a duck?

In my practice, I often see the human version of this story. When people aren’t praised for their strengths, and when only the One True Way is held up as the path to accomplishing a goal, ugly ducklings think they can’t compete. In the human version, accomplished, intelligent go-getters don’t see themselves as accomplished, intelligent go-getters at all.

My clients are people who, despite all their achievements and personal charm, don’t think they can network effectively, and don’t think they know how to bring in new business. Why? Because they’ve not seen their strengths rewarded, while witnessing the praise of a set of behaviors that they cannot or do not want to do. They’ve internalized a particular version of what a networker or a rainmaker looks and acts like. And because they can’t contort themselves to fit that mold, they assume they’re just not cut out to be successful in these endeavors.

[Related: Four Ways to Network (When You Don't Love Networking)]

Take, for example, Alex (not her real name). Her goal was to bring in more clients into her firm. She kept telling me that she wanted to find the right organization within which she could network to find these new clients. Yet, for months, she’d evade taking action — she wouldn’t even create a list of organizations that could fit her stated goal.

So I finally asked Alex whether joining an organization was the thing that she truly wanted to do. She admitted that it was not. But this was how she had always seen it done, and if she wasn’t going to overcome her resistance and dislike for networking within organizations, she was certain that her anemic list of clients would never grow.

Keep in mind that Alex is a highly accomplished person who connects with people on a deep and authentic level. Alex has also, paradoxically, already generated business by playing to this strength. Yet her mental framework did not allow her to see this fact. She had a ginormous blind spot, confusing her proven methodology with mere luck.

This is how powerful our mental models are.

I know this feeling myself. I used to eagerly devour every article with titles like “10 proven ways to make networking easier” and sign up to courses promising to teach me the hidden secrets of rainmaking. But invariably, I found myself disappointed because I just couldn’t map the teachings of these articles and these courses onto my situation.

It wasn’t until my experience with my clients’ blind spots that I started questioning my own. And that’s when I realized that I was discounting my ability to connect with people in writing, despite all the evidence that this was the thing that made me successful. Instead, I was trying (and failing) to turn myself into a glad-handing life-of-the-party networker. Because my mental mold for success would only allow for that kind of networker.

[Related: Practical Networking Tips for Introverts]

So if you’re finding yourself saying “this can never be me because I’m not [fill in the blank]” – listen to yourself. This is your opportunity to catch a glimpse of your blind spot. And identifying this blind spot is a critical step in charting a course that relies on your own strengths to achieving your goals.

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Maria Granovsky helps lawyers build thriving practices they love. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and medical genetics from the University of Toronto and a J.D. from Georgetown University, and she’s a published author of a legal thriller titled Poison Pill.


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