What if you could take the very small parts of your past jobs that you love the very most, and spend most of your day doing those things that make you happy and you’re great at!
What would that be like?
How would that change your life?
In 2006, after I got fired from a job that I detested, I set about answering those questions for myself.
I moved from a Regional Manager role that was a terrible fit for me into a role in Human Resources that felt like I was on vacation all of the time. This wasn’t because it was easy or I wasn’t working hard, it was because I found I was great at it and I was enjoying it immensely.
This was because in this new role and new company I was much more aligned with my strengths than ever before.
Only I didn’t fully understand this right away, I just was excited because at the time I didn’t know work could feel like this. It wasn’t until many years and career changes later (and working with thousands of other people on their careers) that I finally understood how much of an impact working in your strengths makes.
But aligning yourself with your strengths and spending your time in areas of what we call your signature strengths is much bigger than just your work. I’ve grown to believe that what initially seemed like a “good idea” actually is a compelling way to live your life (not just your career)
Here’s just a few compelling reasons I’ve found over the years
- The more that we use our strengths in a day, the less likely we are to feel stressed, worried, angry or sad!
- Just 1-2 extra hours a day of using your strengths corresponds with increased feelings of happiness
- Using ones strengths is associated with increased productivity levels and increased wellbeing,
That coupled with the my personal experiences of just feeling more valued, more at peace, more content with any given stage of life.
Plus I’m in a really unique position now that I’m the CEO of a company that helps people move to careers and businesses that allow them to flourish (and part of flourishing is spending more time in your strengths) we’ve been able to gather qualitative data from thousands of people that are in “before” and “after” situations.
When our students successfully make a change in their life that allows them to spend more time leveraging their strengths, they tell us their life their work, their relationships and even their focus and productivity are better!
One student put it like this:
“Before I felt like I was going against the grain, now it feels like my career is working with the grain.”
As Psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “Who are we to argue with how people feel. They are the best judge of how they feel.”
All of these things combined have convinced me that I personally will spend the rest of my life making sure that I am spending more and more of my life and time focused on working in and developing my strengths AND being an advocate for others to do the same.
Even though all this makes a compelling case as to why spending more of your time using your strengths is good for you and your wellbeing, it doesn’t answer the question of how do strengths really work?
How do Strengths Really Work?
I get constant questions about how strengths really work!
- How much do strengths really matter?
- Do strengths change over time?
- I took the Strengths Finder Assessment 3 years ago is it worth taking again?
- I’m really great at some things but honestly I don’t enjoy them that much. How do I know which strengths to focus on?
These are all really great questions, especially if you want to focus your career, a business or your life around your strengths. But do you want to structure your career, business or your life around the areas you have strengths? And if so why?
When I mention the word strengths, most people envision skills, tasks or actions,
they say things to me like
“I’m great at building pivot tables in Excel, but honestly I hate spending all my time in Excel”
Or “I’m great at making people laugh, does that mean I should be a comedian”
Or “People tell me I’m a good project manager, but I really don’t want to be doing project management”
In every one of these cases these aren’t their strengths (breathe a sigh of relief, you’re not doomed to run pivot tables for the rest of your life)
All of these are focused instead on the physical or tangible manifestation of the strength. (Not an example of the strength itself)
Meaning: you might be good at a task but it’s actually what is underneath the surface that is causing you to be great at that (plus your individual practice at that skill)
Think about it this way: If you imagine strengths to be like an iceberg then the part above the water is the skill, activity, or physical and tangible manifestation of that strength. Not the main iceberg itself.
The part that other people often can’t see (and many times it’s hard for us to see too) is the under the water portion. These are your actual strengths themselves.
They are often hidden from view, underneath the surface. Here’s some examples of strengths:
Examples of Strengths
I used to work with a Finance Manager who “miraculously” would build the best models of how businesses worked. All of this would go into an incredibly complex spreadsheet and at the end of the month his projections would be incredibly accurate while all the other finance managers would be off by as much as 35%.
Was his strength building complex models? Of course not, One of his main strengths was understanding and identifying how complex systems and information fit together in ways that you or I might not be able to comprehend. But all we see on the output is a fancy spreadsheet and that he’s deadly accurate in his projections.
Further it gets complicated because you may have multiple strengths that make it possible for you to be great at just one skill!
Do Strengths Change Over Time?
I constantly get asked if strengths change over time. The short answer is “yes” they do. But not but not in the way that you probably think.
For example people ask things like…
“I took the strengths finder assessment a few years back, then I took it again my top 5 strengths are mostly different, I didn’t think that strengths were supposed to change that much? What gives?”
You’re strengths don’t change that much over the years, but some get more development and float up to the top.
Think about it this way. If I had a bucket filled with water and I began dropping in plastic balls the more buoyant plastics would float to the top. Those super heavy plastics would sink to the bottom. Some might be in the middle and may not rise all the way to the top.
Gallup defines strengths as “those areas that make you talented and unique.”
We define strengths as those areas that you are great at or are predisposed to have potential to be great at and are nurtured over time and activity.
Those ones that sink to the bottom immediately are neither of these. These aren’t necessarily weaknesses per say but they are those areas that whether through nature or nature these are not your strengths.
The plastic balls that are floating at the very top are those strengths that have been developed the most.
The ones that are not floating as easily and are just below the surface are still strengths. These just may not have had the same level of development as the balls that are floating easily on the top.
When you take an assessment like Strengths Finder that ranks your Top 5, it’s providing you your most current strengths themes (the plastic balls that floated right to the top). But lets say a few years of life go by and you’ve been in a different role or operated in different business or industry where you experienced growth in, this may cause different strengths to become more developed.
In our bucket of water this just means that those others have now floated up to the top, because of that focus and development. It doesn’t mean the other strengths have disappeared.
And in the case of Strengths Finder where you get the top 5 themes (and not the remaining 29 themes) many people immediately want to know the rest of them. But honestly in my experience that’s not valuable and for most people it’s just confusing and overwhelming. Plus it defeats the purpose of focusing on your top strengths. Because often those are your most valuable strengths to the external world AND the most enjoyable for you to use.
In my opinion that is one big part of flourishing as a human being: spending more of your time and energy in those areas that are valuable to others and allow you to focus your efforts of enjoyment.
How Do I Focus On my Key Strengths (Signature Strengths)
If I know that spending more time in my strengths (particularly my signature strengths) makes me “more happy” more often, then I immediately want to know, how do I focus my efforts there.
First you have to understand what “Signature Strengths” are. The easiest way to think about them is the intersection of your strengths, enjoyment, and where you bring the highest value to the world.
Here’s a visual way to think about this:
Once you find these areas it becomes much easier to focus your time in areas that allow you to use your signature strengths.
This is no easy task for most people though, we might work with our students (often high performers that are already self aware) and it can still take 1-2 months before honing in on where to hyperfocus energy.
To get you started in figuring this out, here’s a few resources to help you begin!
Resources to become Clear on Your Strengths
We’ve put together several items and resources for you to use to become clear on your strengths
- The Ultimate Guide to Using Your Strengths to Get Hired
- Strengths Finder – (Clifton Strengths) Assessment
Transcript from Episode
Scott: What if you could take the very small parts of your past jobs that you love the very most and spend most of your day doing those things that make you happy and your great app?
Scott: Welcome to The Happen To Your Career Podcast. I'm Scott Anthony Barlow. This is the show where we share stories of how high achievers find career happiness and meaning.
Okay. That first question that you heard earlier, I'm serious about it. What if you could take the parts of your job, those pieces of your past roles that you really truly enjoy and what if you could expand upon them? And what if those things really allowed you to focus in on those pieces that make you most happy at any given time or put you in a place of happiness at any given time and you also happen to be great at them. What would that be like? Really think about it. What would that be like? How would that change your life? Okay, so in this episode we're doing things a little bit differently. I wanted to help you understand some of the biggest questions that I get about strikes and help you understand what is the real magic of strengths. Because that question that we just mentioned earlier, well that is the magic of strikes. What do I mean by that? But I'll tell you what in.
Let me tell you a story first. In 2006 after I got fired from a job that I just absolutely detest it. I said about answering those exact same questions for myself and really trying to figure this stuff out, and I moved from this regional manager role that quite honestly was a pretty terrible fit for me into a role in human resources that felt like I was on vacation all of the time and the interesting part about this is it didn't feel like I was on vacation because it was super easy or because I wasn't working hard. Not on vacation in that way, but it was because I found that I was great at it and that was a really enjoying it very, very much so. And this was because in this new role and this new company, I was much more aligned with my strengths than I ever had been before. The only thing here was way back then. I didn't really fully understand this right away. I was honestly just excited because at the time I didn't know where it could feel like this at all and it wasn't until many years later and many career changes later too, and then working with thousands of other people in their careers that I finally really started to understand how much of an impact working in your strengths really makes on someone's life, on your life, but aligning yourself with your strengths and spending more of your time, more of your life in areas of what we call your signature strengths, and I'll tell you more about that in a second and we've done some past episodes on that yet you can go back and look for as well. It's much bigger than just your work. I've grown to believe that what initially started out as seeming like a good idea that I should probably do, this whole concept of working in your strengths and living initiatives is it actually is really a compelling way to live your entire life and not just your career. Okay, so here's just a few of those compelling reasons that I found over the years that come from research. Not my opinion, and a gallop by the way, has done some really amazing research on strengths in particular. Now, one thing that has been found in this comes from Gallup, the stems from a couple of pieces of research they've done, but the more that we use our strengths in a given day, the less likely are we see a positive correlation with being less likely to feel stressed, worried, angry, or even sad. Pretty cool, right? Okay. Now get this just one to two extra hours a day of using your strengths regardless of whether it has anything to do with work or in any other area of life. Just one, two extra hours of using your strengths corresponds with increased feelings of happiness. Pretty cool, but it gets better. Using one's strengths is associated with increased productivity levels and also increased wellbeing. All right, so I'm a total nerd for the charts and the data that goes behind this. And if you are too, you can go over and see the links that we've got back to some of the research and some of the sources for this over at the happentoyourcareer.com/239, and that'll allow you to be able to download the entire set of resources that we've got along with this, but it will also link you up to some of the research here if you're that kind of nerdy as well. But for those of you who are not, I got to tell you that seeing all of this, not just made a really compelling case, but I started to see a lot of evidence too, in my personal experiences. If for me, I just felt more valued on a day to day basis. I felt more at peace. I felt more content with any given stage of my life, you know, whether it be the beginning to raise kids stage or whether it be the building wealth stage. For all these different types of stages in life, the times where I was spending more time working or living in my strengths, increasingly felt better and better. Okay. And now, I've got to admit, I know I'm in a pretty unique position too because I'm a CEO of a company that helps people move to careers and businesses that allow you to be able to flourish. And part of flourishing and there's a really good definition of flourishing by the way that comes from Martin Seligman who is often renowned as the father of positive psychology. But anyhow, one of the definitions that he gives for flourishing includes spending more time in your strengths. Okay. So we've been able to gather a lot of qualitative data within our own business as well from thousands of people that are in these before and after situations, especially as it relates to their careers where beforehand, they're not spending very much of their day on any given day or very much of their week working in or around or spending time in their strengths. And then after they are spending, you know, many, many, a much, much higher percentage varies pretty, pretty widely, but a much, much higher percentage. And increasingly, we hear from them that they are happier, they feel better. They, we get all different kinds of commentary back. But when our students successfully make this type of change in their life, it allows them to spend more time leveraging their strengths and they tell us that in their life and in their work and relationships and even in their focus and productivity, all of those are better. And one student put it like this. Before, he was talking about before I, before I made the change, and before I started using my strengths more frequently before I felt like I was going against the grain. Now, it feels like my career is working with the grain. Okay? And I thought that was such a great illustration of just that feeling and the difference so that you can get into your mind a “Why this is even worth talking about in the first place?”. Because strikes sounds really nice, but what does it actually do for you? And we find that it really is. Even though it's intangible, it, it really makes a major difference in the quality of life. When we're talking about quality of life and we're talking about things like flourishing and happiness. As Daniel Gilbert, who is a psychologist and wrote a book called stumbling on happiness, and as he points out in that book, well, who are we to argue with how people feel they're the best judge of how they feel, right? And if they're telling us that they feel happier, if they're telling us that they feel like they haven't improved quality of life, well, who are we to say that they don't or interject otherwise. Right? Okay. So all of these things combined have convinced me over the years that I personally want to spend the rest of my life making sure that I am spending more and more of my time and of my life focused on working in and around and developing my strengths. And then, for me too, in particular because I've seen such a profound impact in my own life and because I've seen what this can do for others, this also includes being an advocate for the rest of my life, for others to be able to do the same. And that's part of how we ended up with this company in the first place. And one of the reasons behind it why are we started it could see this impact as I was working in HR, as I was working with other people on developing their careers over time. More time spent here becomes worth it. There's the in conclusion. But even though all of this makes a pretty compelling case as to why spending more of your time using your strengths as good for you, it's good for your wellbeing. It really doesn't answer the question of how the strengths really actually work. What are we really talking about when we say strengths? Because quite honestly, I get constant questions about how this stuff actually works. When we open up the hood and we start looking at the engine and we start tearing apart and understanding how does this really make the thing go? Then we realized that it often doesn't work the way that we think it does. And so we get tons of different questions. On a daily basis at this point now. Like, how much do strengths really matter? While we tackle a little bit about that, and do strengths change over time? There's another question we get fairly frequently. Sometimes people have questions about strengthsfinder assessment because that's one of the assessments that we've recommended over the years and one that we find is a great job in giving you good, useful verbiage to describe your strengths and think about your strengths. Is that the magical install beal, or is it the magic bullet necessarily to just completely change your life? No, absolutely not, but it's one step in understanding what are some of the things that are unique to you that really you can leverage throughout time? Another thing that pops up again to another example, and I'll try and answer some of these questions here as we go along. But, you know, people say things like, “Hey! I'm really great at some things, but honestly, I don't enjoy them though that much. How do I know which strengths to focus on?”. So these are the types of questions that I get. These are the types of questions my team answers every day with the people that we're working with. And these are all really great questions, especially if you want to focus a career, a business or your life around your strengths. But do you want to structure a career or business or life around the areas that you have strengths? And if so, why? Well, let's evaluate that for just a minute. Let's tear this apart. Okay. When I mentioned the word strengths, most people I find envision skills or tasks or actions. They say things to me like, “Hey! I'm great at building pivot tables in excel, but honestly, I hate spending all my time in excel. It's not what I enjoy doing all the time.” Or people say things like, “I'm great at making people laugh, but does that mean I should be a comedian?” and a still other, you know, people say things like, “Hey! People give me feedback all the time. I'm a really great project manager, but honestly I don't want to be doing project management.” Okay, well when I hear things like this, that is my red flag to help those people understand really what strengths are because all of those indicate to me that they haven't yet had the opportunity to learn what a deeper understanding of how strengths work and so I'd like to help you understand what's under the surface.
Every one of these cases, every one of these sets of questions or things that people say to me that I just described, they aren't their strengths. They aren't their strengths. We're not talking about their strengths when we and I guess he can breathe a sigh of relief here because if you're great at building pivot tables, don't worry. You're not doomed to rubbing pivot tables for the rest of your life. It'll be okay, I promise, but what I should point out is that all of these instead are focused on the physical or tangible manifestation of that strength. It's what we see, but it's not the strength itself. Meaning, you might be good at a particular task or a particular skill, but it's actually what's underneath the surface that is causing you to be great at it. Plus, I would also say your individual practice and development, at that scale too. But it's that underneath the surface part that we're really talking about when we talk about strengths. The things that you can't see.
And think about it this way. If you can imagine strengths to be like an iceberg, then the part that you see above the water is actually that physical manifestation. It's the part that's easy to see. It's the skill, it's the pivot table building. It's the activity, the physical and tangible information and manifestation of that strength is not the main iceberg itself. It's just the tip. Now, the part that is underneath the water that people often can't see and many times it's hard for us to see it in ourselves too is that that's much larger piece of the iceberg. These are your actual strengths itself. These are what's causing you to be able to develop those skills much easier or be predisposed to be good at a particular set or provide you that ability or lend to make it easier when you take a particular type of action and think about it, this is the cause, what causes these outputs to be easier? Now, when we can start to figure out that's what gives us a clue as to what our strengths are. So these are often hidden from view with our underneath the surface.
And here's an example, I used to work with a finance manager and this guy would miraculously build some of the best models I've ever seen of how businesses work and really, really talented guy in a lot of different ways, but all these things would go into an incredibly complex spreadsheet and then at the end of the month, the end of the month would roll around and all his projections and everything would be incredibly accurate where all the other finance managers in the company might be off by as much as 35 percent. He was, you know, within, uh, within about one to three percent nearly every time. Right? Okay. So what was his strength? Was his strength of building complex models? Was his strength working in excel? Was his strength something else? Of course it wasn't any of these particular things that are just described. One of his main strengths was actually understanding and identifying how complex systems and information fit together in ways that you or I might not even be able to comprehend. But all we see on the output of it, all that we see on the physical side, the tangible side that's in front of us. It's a fancy spreadsheet and the fact that he's deadly accurate in his projections. Right? But it's that underneath the surface piece that really is his actual strength. And this can get even further complicated too because a lot of times you might see something on the surface, but it's influenced by multiple strengths underneath. You might have that strength with that finance manager where he's great at understanding and identifying how complex systems and information fit together, but another one of his strengths at the same time that also influenced his ability to be able to do all this really cool stuff, was being able to be super curious and ask lots of questions. He had this innate curiosity. And some people were put off by this quite frankly but he would continue to ask questions until he had get to the cause. He just had this innate need to understand in ways that were, in some, some cases offensive to most people, but he couldn't stop doing it, couldn't stop doing it until he sort of got to the bottom. That's what allowed him to be able to, when combined with his other strengths, put together all of these really very accurate things. Right? So that is hard to understand when you're just looking at this guy puts together awesome models, or hey, why is he so good? And we're often confused that, hey, our strength as the model itself. Nope, definitely not. It's what's underneath the surface.
Another thing that people ask all the time is, do these strengths change over time? Okay, so let's say that I know what my strengths are in the first place. You know, I don't understand that the third, the underneath the surface pieces, do those things change over time? Well, I want to answer this question and the short answer is yes they do, but probably not in the way that you think, you know. Another derivative of that question is, you know, people will say things like talking about the strengths finder assessment. Hey, I took the strengths finder assessment a few years back. Then I took it again and my top five strengths are mostly different. I didn't think they were supposed to change that much. What gifts, and I'll tell you that your strengths don't change that much over the years. They do get more developed and some get more developed than others depending on where you're focusing your time, what you're involved with, what you are focused on individually and how you're growing as a person and those in particular, they get more development float up to the top. Now, here's a way to kind of think about this. We all have a variety of different strengths and if we're using the strengths finder assessment in particular, which if you're familiar with that one at the, they divide different types of talents, what they call it as tenants, and they divide those talents into 34 themes and those 34 strengths themes, when you take the strengths finder assessment, they give you your top five. And the reason why that's so valuable to many different people is because if you are focused on those things that are your highest strengths or your top strengths, if you will, then that provides you this way to be able to focus your time and efforts into those areas to be able to benefit from all the other things where we talked about earlier, like, being able to have a higher quality of life if I get to spend more of my time in these top five areas. Now, strengths finder first of all, since I do get lots of questions about that too. It's not going to solve all your problems. It's really not. A lot of people get it and they take it and they're like, okay, now what, what do I do with the information now? And it's not going to be the magic bullet necessarily, but what it does do a really great job of is helping you hone in on some of those top strengths and giving you verbiage to communicate with or to understand how to think about those areas of strength, that area that's underneath the surface in a little bit different way. And that's what is really great for. So there's no perfect assessment out there by any means, but strengths finder is a great one if your goal is to be able to understand and prioritize some of your strengths as well as get a good set of verbiage to go along with them.
Okay. So now let's go back to that question of, how does it work? How do strengths actually changed over time? Do they change over time? Yes, they do change over time, but it is slower than what you probably think. And you might have, you might have not just, five like strengths finder gives you, but you might have seven or eight different areas that are really your strengths. And overtime, one of those might float higher to the top versus another one. And it really depends on how you are developing that and what's causing that development over the years. But in general, from now until six months from now, they're probably not going to change drastically. You might rearrange the order in terms of what is your top strength based on how you've been spending your time. But for the most part, when we're talking about strengths, which are those underneath the surface pieces and sometimes our need to think about it as the way that you're wired and the things that are causing you to be good at those skills or knowledge or abilities or actions, those types of things. Okay?
So let's go back to this final question of, “How do I know what strengths to focus on?” Because I mentioned earlier the example of somebody saying, “Hey! Everybody's telling me I'm great at project management and guess what? I hate project management or they might think you might even think that I'm great at a particular area but I just honestly don't enjoy it that much.” So first of all, just like we acknowledged earlier, it's really the underneath the surface part that we're focused in on. And this is a great opportunity to be able to define what we call signature strikes. Now, a lot of times when you might have even been heard as mentioned this on the podcast in the past where we've said, “Hey! Just think about signature strengths as the overlap between those things you're great at or have the potential to be great at and what you enjoy.” But when we dive a little bit further into it, what we teach in our classes and courses and programs and with our students, we even go a little bit further in depth and say, “Okay, really it's not just those pieces.” But we're also very interested in finding where can you add the most value, that intersection between adding the most value to the world as well as those areas you enjoy as well as those areas that you happen to be great app either through nature or nurture or the combination of. Okay, so that is really what we're looking for and those in particular are the strengths that we want to focus our time and effort on because we find both through research and practical application that those are the very, very same areas that you are going to be able to flourish in. You find that those are the same areas that you're going to contribute the most to your career, but was be able to very likely earned the most as well as have the most fun on a regular basis doing them. So couple of ways to be able to figure out what those are. We've got a few different resources that we're not gonna be able to dive into all of it and I don't want to leave you hanging, so I've got a few different things that you can do from here on out to begin to identify what are those areas of signature strengths for you and begin moving more of your life to spending more of your time so that you can be more, more happy, more fulfilled more often.
Okay. Thing number one, I mentioned earlier, you can go over to thehappentoyourcareer.com/239 and that's gonna take you to all the notes in the blog post and the little mini guide that we've put together for this episode as well as all the links for everything that we've talked about here. So that's the happentoyourcareer.com/239. And that'll help you get you started to. Another great resource, I mentioned strengths finder. So you can actually go to thehappentoyourcareer.com strengths plural finder. So, the happentoyourcareer.com/strengthsfinder, and that'll take you to the strengths finder assessment. And if you want, you can actually get the strengths finder assessment alone or you can even get it combined with a little mini training of three videos that help you understand and dive even deeper into your strengths – how they work, and how you can make them work for you. And also some of the misconceptions that tears apart some of the misconceptions on strengths too.
And so there's a couple of different resources for you and then even still another resource. We'll provide links to this as well when you go to the happentoyourcareer.com/239. But we have put together a guide that's called the ultimate guide to using your strengths to get hired. And that'll take you through some ways to find your strengths and focus on to move your top strengths as well is give you some ideas and examples of how to leverage them through a career change or through a hiring type process. So there's three different resources that can get you started and feel free to choose one or all of them that a you want to do if you want to dive even further into strengths.
Okay. I hope this has been really, really helpful for you and now that you understand just a little bit more about how strengths actually work and why we feel that there are so incredibly important, especially as a part of your career, but as a part of your life as well.
And we have even more coming up for you next week. Right here on The Happen To Your Career. I'm so excited to be able to welcome to the podcast somebody who I had been told we should get on many, many times and she's written a number of different books about happiness, about behavior and a whole bunch of other topics even Winston Churchill.
Gretchen Rubin: I never thought about happiness. I never asked myself if I were happy. I thought about could I be happier? Like is it even possible to be happier? Like is that something you can affect? And I said, you know, I should have a happiness project. And it was like a “Babam!”. The happiness project.
Scott: All that and more when we bring Gretchen Rubin the podcast next week, right here on The Happen To Your Career. Until then, we are out. Adios!