What are you good at? Isn’t that the classic question people ask you when you’re trying to figure out your life direction? It’s not a bad question, but it’s not enough. We need to start by figuring out our strengths.
It took me five years to figure out my strengths. It doesn’t have to take you that long.
I worked it in between running a school, getting my MBA, and engaging a family of five or six–however many kids we had at the time. I didn’t get intentional about it, partly because I didn’t get to it until later in life.
I wish I had focused on figuring out my strengths earlier in life. If you know of a young adult or even a teen who would benefit from this series, please pass it along.
But no matter where you find yourself now, you can assess your strengths and commit to putting them to work, systematically and intentionally.
What is a Strength?
When I use the word strength, I mean something quite specific. I do not mean what you are good at. I do not mean merely what you enjoy doing. Both elements are essential elements of a strength.
It was Marcus Buckingham who first alerted me to the inner workings of a strength. A strength, as he described it, is something that when you are doing it time flies; you feel invigorated having done it, and you can’t wait to do it again.
In other words, you are empowered by doing it.
A weakness, on the other hand, is something that when you are doing it time drags by; you feel drained having done it, and you dread ever having to do it again.
Note the emphasis on self-awareness in these definitions.
Your strengths are NOT merely about what you are good at. You can be very good at something, but that does not mean it is a strength for you.
Let that sink in.
We often choose our calling or career paths based on our grades in a certain subject, or our apparent skills in a certain area. But the same God who gave us those talents, wired us with passions. We find our strengths where passion and talent meet.
If you are really good at something, but hate doing it, it is is not a strength– no matter what anyone else tells you.
It is a weakness for you.
In my years as a pastor and school principal, I found that I was quite good at helping people resolve differences between one another. So I did a lot of it. But it drained me; I didn’t enjoy it and wished I never had to do it again.
That doesn’t mean I would never do it as the need arose, but I should not pursue it for my life direction. Eventually, I would tire of it and become NOT good at it. And that would be bad news for all involved.
Conversely, if you are not that good at something but really enjoy it, it is not a strength. It’s a hobby. You can engage in it for fun, but you probably shouldn’t dedicate your life to it—both for your sake and the good of others.
I enjoy golfing on occasion, but the PGA tour will never see me on a green. And that’s a good thing for them.
My Strengths Statement
I thought it might help you to make sense of strengths by sharing with you my own journey into discovering my strengths statement. This statement guided me in stepping out by faith from my job as a school principal several years ago to put my strengths to work.
If I hadn’t become clear on my strengths, I never would have stepped out. Because I knew how God had wired me, I had confidence and clarity about the direction I should take, even if I didn’t know all the details yet.
With the help of several specific resources, I drilled down into my strengths to discover how God had uniquely gifted me to “contribute a verse,” as Walt Whitman put it.
So the following is what I learned about me. You will be different, of course, but I want you to know that you can find tremendous clarity about your strengths and life direction. It is possible to get there from here.
I developed the following strengths statement that I use to evaluate opportunities and find life direction:
I am at my best when I am creatively questioning, connecting, and communicating within the context of my beliefs.
There are five key elements to this statement:
Creative: I am a creative. That comes with pros and cons just like any strength. But the freedom to think creatively about everything is essential to putting my strengths to work. That necessarily eliminates any option that would not permit me to do so.
Question: My creative bent leads me to ask a lot of questions. I crave input, to use a term Buckingham uses in Now, Discover Your Strengths. I am capable of soaking up vast amounts of information quickly.
I never even realized this was a unique capability until I began to uncover my strengths by taking the Strengths Finder assessment. It identifies 5 key strength themes — not strengths themselves. Until then, I presumed everyone could do what I could do because that was all I knew.
So it is with you. There are things that you do well–and enjoy doing–but you may not realize them because you are used to doing them.
Connect: I am a catalyst. I connect things. Ideas, people, words–all of it. I am constantly connecting things. I have the unique ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated things.
That also means I am always thinking. Always.
That has its challenges, of course. But I am at my best when I am free to ask questions and then make creative connections.
Communicate: I need to have an end purpose to my questioning and connecting. It is when I communicate what I learned that the process is completed.
I had figured this out about myself already, but it really came home when I engaged Buckingham’s The Truth about You while on a mission trip to Mexico.
When I returned from the trip, I used the journal notebook from that kit to record my strengths and weaknesses for a week. The highlight of that week for me was communicating to the student body at the school what I learned from questioning and connecting ideas while on my mission trip.
It was a biblical analysis of socialism, by the way, as I observed the evils of it first-hand in Mexico, and saw our own country beginning to falling under the spell of socialism’s siren song.
Ever since, I have focused on ensuring whatever I do has an end of communicating my thoughts in an engaging way that people can readily understand. Even my strengths statement, for example, uses the “c” sound in all five points. I didn’t plan it that way. That is a result of my natural desire to simplify and communicate.
Context: My beliefs must align with what I am doing, or I will not be performing at my best over the long-term.
If you have followed my writing for any length of time, you know I have opinions about things.
What we believe to be true determines what we do. Thus I have focused throughout my life on choosing my beliefs well–and knowing why I believe them.
My life direction must be consistent with those beliefs or I will soon become disengaged and perform poorly.
In my business endeavors, I enjoy working with clients who have messages to share that are consistent with my beliefs. Occasionally I work with clients whose message doesn’t really align directly, but even then I intentionally identify a way in which their message will help others so I can focus my motivation in a way that resonates with how God has wired me.
What about you? Have you taken the time to figure out how God has wired you?
I mentioned Now, Discover Your Strengths and The Truth about You and recommend them as good starting points to help you figure out how God has wired you. I also highly recommend Buckingham’s newer StandOut that focuses more on how you fit best within the context of a team.
Michael Hyatt’s new book Living Forward promises to build upon what Daniel Harkavy and he have learned about the process, though not, I suspect, from a distinctly Christian perspective.
In the next post, I will focus on what I think is the next important question to ask once you figure out your strengths. Please leave a comment to let me know what questions you have after reading this post and I’ll do my best to address them.
You can do this.
Life direction doesn’t have to be a mystery or involve lottery tickets in any way. God has made you to do something few others can.
But you may have to drill down intentionally to discover exactly what it is.
Question: What questions do you have about the process of discovering your strengths? If you have found clarity about your own strengths, why not share about them? Share your thoughts by clicking here.