If someone asked you, “What are your strengths?” would you really know how to answer? Would you list your skills? Did you know that just because you might be good at something, it might not be your strength? I didn’t.
For years I didn’t know my real strengths. I followed my career (almost without any plan or design) and then over time pursued work based on my skills – not my strengths. In this case, I am not talking about strengths as skills or aptitudes. It’s something deeper. You know you are tapping into your strength if you get excited about a task that would use that strength. You also lose track of time when you use your strength. After you’ve finished using your strength, you have more energy than before.
Some people call it a signature strength. I call it a superpower strength. Whatever you call it, using these strengths allow you to shine not just to others but to yourself. It is something you are talented at but also gain energy from. In my case, my superpower strength is helping people take bold steps forward in their career and in life.
Why does any of this matter? When you exercise and invest in your superpower strength, you will find more success in your career and more pleasure in life. They make us feel strong. When we focus on these strengths, we feel better about ourselves. Knowing these strengths helps us guide ourselves forward not just in our day-to-day but how we make decisions for what to do – and not do.
The trick though is that we don’t always know our superpower strengths. Why is that? Well, usually we don’t take the time to figure it out. The strength is there but it isn’t always apparent. Certainly, that is what happened to me until I realized I had to figure something out.
If you believe you are not using your superpower strength, ask yourself these four essential questions.
- When do I really shine?
My suggestion is to deeply reflect on this question. Take some time – even a few weeks – to explore the possibilities. Do not go with quick reflexive answers. After all, you’ve probably had it drilled in you for years what you are good at! Now the time to explore what your strength is.
To help you unearth the answer to the main question, I have put together some sub questions below. Tip: Answer these questions both for inside and outside your work.
- What do you really enjoy?
- What do you really like about yourself?
- When you are at your best, what are you doing?
- What activities leave you feeling energized?
- Are there activities where you tend to lose time?
- What do others see as my greatest strength?
This one is tricky and usually most people resist it because no one wants to ask others about ourselves. Please don’t skip this! I encourage you to take an informal poll among those people you really trust, and ask them to list your strengths both inside and outside your job. Friends, family, and trusted colleagues are good places to start.
Just ask these people what they believe are your greatest strengths? See what comes up?
- How do I define success?
This is another question requiring you do go beneath the surface. Success is defined is many different ways. I’m going to guess that your profession or work may define success one way and you might define it differently.
Tap into when you feel you have helped create success (even if no one else counts it that way!).
Here are some trigger questions for you:
- Do you feel successful when you help people? If so, in what way?
- Do you feel success when you find the best way or method to do something?
- Or when you produce something of high quality?
- Do you feel success when something is your own creation?
- Do you feel success when something is well organized? Or when it is beautiful?
- What do your instincts say is your best strength?
I’m saving this last for a reason. After you have spent a little time thinking about your strengths (I means days not hours!) you will be more in tune with what makes you tick.
For me, finding my superpower strength was a long and windy road. If someone had asked me a few years ago, what my signature strength was, I would have rattled off a list of skills. What I now pay attention to are those activities which bring me energy. If anything, I am rediscovering my true strengths every day. I’m more attuned to my strengths than I was before and you can do the same.
I encourage you to take this journey starting with answer these questions. Good luck!
Additional reading: Go Put Your Strengths To Work by Marcus Buckingham
If you want to take a free test to discover some of your strengths, go to the University of Pennsylvania, VIA Survey of Character Strengths.