Naming Your Strengths

It’s not hard to argue that it would be wonderful to work in a job that played to your strengths. What’s difficult is to define your strengths. For some reason, we find it very easy to think about subjects—math, science, history; we also have no problem segmenting ourselves according to industries—finance, technology, healthcare, education. But we have a heck of a hard time describing what it is we do well. We simply don’t have a well-developed vocabulary for this; plus, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

“So what do you do?”

“I think strategically, find important connections between different parts of the organization and define the core mission of teams.”

“Oh.”

Also, it doesn’t fit very well on a business card.

Some people seem to have been blessed with self-knowledge from the moment they could form words. I’ve heard stories of individuals who “just knew” they were destined to run their own company, or become a software engineer or a paleontologist. For example, Betty Skelton (1926–2011), one of very few women pilots in her day, set light-plane altitude records and performed daredevil stunts. She said that, as a child, she just knew she was destined to fly. At the age of 8, she was requesting brochures from airplane manufacturers; and at age 12 she had completed her first solo flight. She spent her career pushing the gender boundaries in both air and auto sports. In 1999 she was asked, “What makes you tick?” Her answer? “My heart makes me tick, and ...

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