What I’m about to share with you took me well over half of my life to figure out: When you possess a strength, it’s in your best interest to use it as much as possible!
Were you a little surprised when you read that last sentence? Did you expect something more complex and profound? I’ll admit that the concept of playing to your strengths doesn’t seem groundbreaking at first glance. After all, it’s something all of us have heard many, many times throughout our lives. But how many of us actually live according to that advice?
When I look around, I see a lot of Americans spending large chunks of their lives doing things that they don’t enjoy, that they don’t find fulfilling, and that they might not even be very good at. That doesn’t sound like “playing to your strengths” to me. So why do we live like this?
Here’s what the answer was for me: As a younger man, and even as a child, I worked twice as hard in the areas I found to be difficult as I did in the areas that came naturally to me. I couldn’t stand the thought of being “bad” at something; in fact, I felt compelled to be as perfect as I could possibly be. So what happened as a result of my efforts? Well, I’d usually manage to pull myself up from “bad” to “mediocre”—but rarely higher in these areas.
Also, way too many of us accept the first job offer we receive after graduating from high school or college—perhaps because it was recommended by a friend or because it was the only option available (or maybe we just needed a paycheck as soon as possible). And twenty years later, we find ourselves trying to remember how we got stuck in this career path that we don’t like and that isn’t really using our greatest gifts.
Personally, when I finally realized that I had been spending a lot of my life doing things that frustrated me, drained my energy, and made me unhappy, it was a real epiphany and turning point for me. I asked myself, What could I have accomplished—and how happy could I have been—if I had spent all of those hours doing things that I was good at, that I enjoyed, and that enriched my life and the lives of others? I knew that I couldn’t change the past, but I promised myself that in the future I’d stop beating myself up over the things I wasn’t good at and spend more time playing to my strengths. I encourage you to do the same.
Yes, I know that you can’t just rearrange your life as easily as you can rearrange your living room furniture. You can’t instantly quit a job that you’re not suited for; in fact, it can even be difficult to clear enough time in your schedule to pursue a neglected hobby. But you can start taking little steps in these directions. For example, begin looking at online job postings or for local classes in your field of interest. Instead of zoning out in front of a reality show, pull your art supplies out of the closet.
And what if you aren’t sure what your strengths are? It’s entirely possible that you might not be able to identify them easily, especially if you’ve been stuck in the same mind-numbing rut for years. If this is you, I recommend you start figuring out what you were most meant to do by making two lists. First, write down the five things you believe you are best at. The list could include professional skills, hobbies, or even personal qualities (like “good listener”). On the second list, write down the five things that you enjoy doing the most. When the same thing shows up on both lists, you can bet that it is one of your God-given talents.
Even if you’re spending only fifteen minutes of each day doing something that you consider to be one of your strengths, you’re still moving in a positive direction. Whether you’re by yourself in the garden or mentoring the new hires at work, you’ll find that your sense of fulfillment and self-worth will begin to grow, and your contentment will grow, too! If we all start to use our special gifts and talents more often rather than constantly trying to shore up all of our weaker areas, we certainly will be much happier people, and the world will be a much better and brighter place, too!