This is a perfect time for introspection, for digging a little deeper and finding out more about ourselves. What we like to do, what we don’t or what we’re good at.
One thing that for a long time I lacked was not having a set of strengths “by the book”. I saw myself as a high performer but with good performance across the board. I thought that I did not have one particular skill or trait that contrasted a lot in my performance either on the high or on the low end so I always thought “I was just doing things well across the board”. For a long time, I just wanted to have one clear strength – what I call “by the book” – that would set me apart. I wanted to be a great public speaker, or a great strategist, or a great planner/project manager, but instead, I did all of that well and above average.
I continuously felt that I was being deprived of something great by not being able to define myself with one clear strength. Until I did not feel that way anymore. The trick to it is that there wasn’t one single trigger to this feeling and realizing what my strengths were. It’s been a self-discovery journey that helped me embrace it.
I don’t think I am alone in my journey. If you are a fresh graduate or just starting in the workforce it might be hard to understand what are your strengths. So, in this post, I will be sharing both my own story of how I uncovered my strengths as well as a few tools that anyone can use to find their own strengths.
I am a very structured, organized and methodic person and I execute whatever I’m assigned well; but because this was my day to day reality I was blindsided to even considering they could be strengths. For a long time, I simply did not know that these could be strengths. To me, they seemed to be such normal things that I thought I just do most things way above average and that’s it, I have no clear strength that stands out. I thought that I needed to stand out in areas more prone to be considered strengths, or that you easily associate with the word strength: like public speaking, storytelling, painting, singing and just other obvious strengths.
But a few years into my career, some personality tests, the Gallup Strengths Finder and a chat with my manager, really helped me finally understand that these are strengths and it’s okay to have these type of strengths. And the truth is, it didn’t take just one test and then BAM!, I knew what my strengths were. I read a lot of articles, went through feedback emails that I had, thought long about it, talked to people I trusted and so on. As with anything in life, it takes some work and some good old time.
Being aware your strengths is not a given, and unless you get to exercise them every day for many days in a row, chances are you will not be able to tell them. For most people it takes a few years until they are able to uncover their strengths; sometimes they are just not as obvious and you tend to take them for granted, while sometimes you just need more time to polish them until the tip of the iceberg becomes visible to your own eyes.
Now I understand that both strategy and execution are my forte. I like to achieve things and get things done and I get energized when I am busy and need to tick things off. In the same way, if I am not able to complete something or anything at all, or I am not juggling 15 projects and deliverables at once, I can easily get drained and frustrated. I think the biggest trick when it comes to strengths is that they come so natural to you that you can never imagine that not everyone does “that thing” perfectly. It’s just a normal thing for you. However, realizing that they are not a given, that not everyone will execute a task or project flawlessly, or even at a good, average level is what will make you aware of them. So, as for my story, I am just embracing these strengths, working them up and working on how to position them for taking advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves.
Tools that I used to uncover my strengths:
Below you can find a few tools that you can use and will help you how to find what your strengths are:
- Self-reflection and self-awareness. The one, most important tool to use in uncovering your strengths is self-awareness. This, paired with time & experience will tell. It’s fine if it takes you a little while to figure out what you do best. You need to have the room and time to practice it and realize it. Using past performance reviews results and accomplishments will be the best base for this exercise. Think about what you’ve done well in the past, what colleagues come to you for (what are you a subject matter expert in), what your friends praise you for. All of this will already give you an idea of the areas where you stand out. However, you need to stay honest with yourself when evaluating what you’ve done well in the past. Discovering your strengths will help you build a more confident self, but if you don’t put honest work in it, it will simply fall apart at the first critique.
- 360 feedback. Working with people and getting feedback from them has been an essential part of my own journey. Utilizing just the internal view over yourself and what you do best might give you an incomplete picture. If you have a 360 feedback program at work, it’s a great way to bring in the external view (assuming that you get honest feedback in official channels at work). If you don’t have this, try setting up your own 360 feedback program and enlist a group of trusted people (colleagues, friends, past managers…) in providing their feedback.
- The Gallup CliftonStrengths finder. Gallup is known as the masterminds behind strengths finding. You usually need to pay for this test but a past manager of mine gave me the code to do it. It’s a pretty long one but quite thorough and can be quite helpful. The test can also be taken for free if you’ve purchased one of the Gallup books, which you can find listed here. The thing with taking tests is that they only provide a snapshot and they still need to be taken with a good dose of self-awareness. Make sure to use the results to complete your understanding of yourself, push yourself forward and get better, and not as an instrument of complacency.
- Other Strengths & Personality tests. There are a bunch of other tests on the internet, free to use that can help give you an indication of where your strengths may lie. I think they are fun to do and in the long run, they can help you. My favourite is this one, the 16 personalities test. I also heard that the VIA Character is pretty good. When doing tests, keep in mind the note above and that you need to still work on your strengths to further polish them, but also acknowledge and have an understanding of your weaknesses and how to work these up.
My last advice here on how to find what your strengths are is that you should not expect to just do one test and then have the answer. The trick with strengths is that you have to believe it and grow into them and owning them so that they truly become your strengths. Give yourself time, practice (do the work) and allow for a good dose of introspection and I promise you they will eventually come out to play!
Also, for what it looks like perfect timing, just before scheduling this post I just came Career Contessa’s free webinars, and they have a great one on strengths and how to find them. Here is a link to it.
Do you have other tips on how to find your strengths? If so, please share them below, would love to hear more about it.