Put Your Strengths to Work

“What do you call something you do well but you hate?”  

This question was posed by Marcus Buckingham, a man who originally worked for the Gallup Poll. He was intrigued with survey results showing only 20% of people are doing work where they feel engaged.

old growth forest - Cathedral grove, bc

old growth forest - Cathedral grove, bc

Marcus Buckingham is the author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work. 

Consider the information you put on a resume. Often the emphasis is on what you have done well in the past.  But what if you don’t enjoy doing the work? 

By emphasizing what you think makes sense to put on a resume, you may be offered a job that doesn’t fit for you.

You can probably see how you can wind up in a job that you hate. 

Climbing up the wrong career ladder happens inadvertently.  When I was a young single parent, I found work where I could.  Through a series of circumstances, I found myself in the financial area of organizations.  A large part of the job was doing detailed tasks.  Not my thing.    

In the middle of the afternoon, when I was doing accounts or payroll, I found myself exhausted. I sought out coffee or chocolate.  Or both. I continued doing the work because I needed the money and I didn’t know what else to do.

Soon I was getting referred by former colleagues and employers for openings in finance departments.

I was grateful.  I was pigeon holed. 

What I didn’t know then was that I was getting some good clues about work that fits for me.  Even those afternoons that dragged on were telling me a lot.

Buckingham says when you are doing an activity you hate, it is a weakness.  A weakness is anything you do that leaves you feeling weak. Drained. 

What a brilliant definition!  I was struck by the simplicity and logic. 

When I started thinking about weaknesses, I realized figuring out my weaknesses is an inside job.  No one else can tell what a weakness is because it is connected to feelings.

What about a strength?  A strength is anything you do that leaves you feeling strong. Energized. 

When you think of strengths in this way, you turn towards what energizes you versus what you do well.  And you are more likely to be doing work that is alignment with who you are.

If you are feeling like doing work you love, work where you are using your strengths is only for the privileged, you may want to look at employer surveys of what they are looking for in new hires.

In a survey I saw in 2012, one of the qualities employers were seeking was passion. Considering that the employee is representing the company with each customer interaction, it makes sense that the employer would want someone who were as invested in their business as they are. 

By being clear about your strengths, not only will you find work that engages you, you are more likely to find that workplace where you will be most valued.

So how do you discover your strengths?

Finding your strengths is easier than you might first imagine.  What I have noticed is there is natural inclination to do activities that make you feel strong.

To find your strengths, Buckingham suggests writing down what makes you feel energized as you go through a day.  Because by the end of the day you will forget what it was that energized you, the idea is to do it in the moment.

Don’t expect that you will capture all of your strengths in a day.  Take a week or so to write down a lengthy list. 

Once you have your list, go through each of the activities and consider what it was about the activity that makes you feel strong. 

For example, I wrote down gardening as a strength.  When I started thinking about what it was that energized me, I realized I was fascinated with how plants complement each other, how one repeals the insects that are drawn to another.  After my exploration, I determined my strength is seeing the big picture on how things work together.

This is a strength that I can bring to many jobs.  For example, as a career counsellor I look at the labour market and how it affects employment or as a nurse I may want to find a position where I am looking at the social determinants of health. 

Strengths are transferrable!

While strengths are a key element in finding work that matters to you, you don’t have to quit your job to move towards your dream job.

Find the opportunities where you can contribute your strengths.  Where, on a regular basis, can you do an activity where you are using your strengths? 

Because you are most energized when you are using your strengths, you will get noticed.  When you are using your strengths, you will work harder and develop even more skills to make you even more valuable. 

When you are using your strengths, you will be drawn to doing courses and going to conferences and learning even more.  The more you use your strengths, the more opportunities will open for you.

When you look at others who have become masterful at what they do, you will see that working in their strengths has everything to do with their success.

What are your strengths?  Where will you make your contribution?