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?”
Your 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 se 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
Ready for Career Happiness?
What Career Fits You?
Finally figure out what you should be doing for work
Join our 8-day “Mini-Course” to figure it out. It’s free!
April 17, 2017
174: Add Value, Grow Your Career with Michael Bigelow
IT’S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT THE LIKABILITY AND CONNECTION CERTAINLY DO HELP. BUT IT’S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT I REALLY DO FEEL THAT IT’S BOTH WHO YOU KNOW AND HOW YOU’RE CONNECTED TO THEM, AS WELL AS WHAT YOU KNOW. MICHAEL BIGELOW Whether you’re looking to make a lateral job transition to a […]
January 21, 2019
267: 3 Creative and Strategic Ways to Show Your Strengths to Interviewers
Everywhere you look these days, you can find articles sharing why focusing on your strengths is more valuable than improving your weaknesses. Using your signature strengths in your role means you can be energized instead of drained, engaged instead of bored, and successful instead of struggling. When it comes down to it, working in your […]