Your greatest opportunities for growth lie in your strengths, not in your weaknesses. Unfortunately most people, including myself, have been raised on the opposite belief. Most of us believe we must work on closing the gap of weakness, becoming more proficient where we lack to find success in our chosen field.
This isn’t anecdotal philosophizing you may expect from this writer, these are facts coming out of a Gallup study of more than two million people.
In the book — Now, Discover Your Strengths — author Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton provide evidence that ‘fixing weakness’, while our cultural mindset, is not the answer to creating more success. An unwavering focus on your strengths is the key to finding success and living a happier, more fulfilled life. We hover in mediocrity, or average, because we neglect the innate strengths and talents we’ve been given. We take for granted our excel—lence because we look at our failures. We obsess with becoming whole and complete in our eyes and the eyes of our peers. The irony is, we become less ourselves, less complete in following this strategy.
For purposes of clarity, the authors define strength as ‘consistent near perfect performance in an activity‘. You should be able to do the activity repeatedly and happily. So what makes up strengths and how do you know for certain what are yours? Here is the formula for strengths:
strengths = talents + knowledge + skills
Talents are any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Talents are innate, you’re born with them. Knowledge is content, learning, absorbing — factual and experiential. Skills are how one applies knowledge— the practice. Knowledge and skills are acquired.
Unfortunately, most often we aren’t encouraged to realize and build upon the innate talent, instead we are pushed to seek knowledge and improve skills in areas identified as our weakness. Your child returns home from school with a report card. They have an A in English, an A in social studies, a C in biology, and an F in Algebra. As parents, do we encourage the child to continue building their knowledge and skills in English, which appears to be a strength? No, we push them to fix their weakness, we “encourage” them to fix the F. In an actual study 77 percent of parents chose to focus on the F, only 6 percent on the A in English.
This is the re-enforcement our current structure supports. We learn the false need to focus on weakness, and end up neglecting our strengths. Into adulthood our strengths become rusty, our weaknesses never become strengths. We flounder trying to figure out how we got where we are and how do we get on the correct vocational path. A path to meaningful work.
Here is the crux, you can not change your talents. According to the studies — they are enduring and unique. We all have natural abilities, innate talents, strengths, those things within that bring us the greatest joy when we share and express them. You can’t change it, it’s futile to try. You can discover something that’s been laying dormant, but you can’t teach yourself new strengths.
To help bring clarity to one’s strengths and re-discover what may lie dormant, the authors identify and define thirty-four themes. The book includes access to an in-depth Gallup survey that once completed will return a unique report defining top themes and strengths. I completed the survey and my five themes are Input, Ideation, Intellection, Strategic, Connectedness. The report gives full descriptions, examples of others with the same theme, and ideas on how to put into action. Here are my quick and short definitions:
- Input: Seeks and grows in knowledge.
- Ideation: Designing and creating new ideas.
- Intellection: Introspective and intellectual.
- Strategic: Innovative solutions.
- Connectedness: Sees connection between all things.
If you know me — if I know myself — we’d recognize my results are unmistakably accurate. My themes align with my own independent path to a re—self-discovery. In a nutshell, I like to write, read, discover, solve problems, philosophize, create; and I believe in a greater connection amongst us all. If I’m honest within myself, and I really reflect “intellection-ally”, then I’ve know this all along. There has always been a voice within that has pointed me in my called direction, toward my strengths. Why do I continue to not follow that voice? The reasons I illustrated above. The reasons that came out of the Gallup study.
We fear our weaknesses, we fear failure, and we fear our true self. These are the overwhelming reasons we don’t follow and grow our talents. Fear drives our actions, and with over two million surveyed, that is a heaping load of fear. I’ll save fear for another day. Today I choose to continue my journey toward strengths.