Knowing your strengths and honing in on them, is a key driver of career growth. That is why I think it’s important to spend some time figuring out what they are and then continuously polishing them. In the very first years of working, I had a tough time recognizing my strengths; it just wasn’t easy to pinpoint them, despite being a high performer across the board; or maybe because of it. I continuously felt that I was being deprived of something great by not being able to define myself with one clear strength. Until I didn’t 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 rather been a self-discovery journey that helped me eventually find and embrace my strengths.
Being aware of 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.
I think the biggest trick when it comes to strengths is that they come so naturally 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 do X and Y flawlessly, or even at a good, average level is what will make you be more aware of them.
In the hope that they will also be useful to you, below are the three key tools that I used to uncover my strengths:
- 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 you the truth. 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 foundation 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.
- Strength finders and personality tests. Some people love them and some people hate them. I personally love taking any type of strengths and personality tests, and especially in the past, I would take them all to try and learn more about myself. I think they’re a good tool that can help give you an indication of where your strengths may lie; especially when you find it hard to pinpoint those areas. They can help put a name to the strengths and weaknesses and serve as a starting point for further exploration and self-awareness. A very strong and complete assessment is the Gallup CliftonStrengths finder but there are also other strengths and personality tests online out there. Gallup is known as the mastermind 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. Among the free ones, I did the 16 personalities test and I also heard that the VIA Character is pretty good. 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 as a piece of the puzzle and to complete your understanding of yourself, push yourself forward, and get better, and not as an instrument of complacency.
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 and grow into them as well as own 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.
I also wrote a blog post about my journey towards finding my own strengths, that you can read here. Thank you for reading and let me know your questions/thoughts on this in the comments below!