"Just be yourself,” might be the most frustrating advice ever.
But it is true.
When you decide to be truly, fully yourself, life becomes a lot more fun. And it all starts with focusing on your strengths.
School likes averages.
In traditional western education the average is the most important number on a report card. Schools are trying to create good “average” humans. Because society likes conformity.
But everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, most of the attention goes to the latter. From a young age, students are being told by parents and teachers to improve what they are not good at. For me, it was anything that required a good memory. Latin, geography and history were really hard, and I didn’t enjoy studying them one bit. I had to put in much more effort than my friends. It made me feel like I a dummy.
All the while, I did have a highly logical brain. Structure and logic are my strengths. But they didn’t get much energy or attention, because I was already better than average. All focus was on improving my bad memory.
What were your ignored strengths and highlighted weaknesses?
Good average human.
This approach works well to transform everyone into a good average human. But why would we want that?
Are the people who are changing the world good average humans?
No. One of the things top performers, artists and business leaders have in common is focus. Focus on their work and focus on their own strengths. Their strengths get lots of attention and evolve into superpowers.
So while school is teaching students how to fit our uniquely shaped identities through the same cookie-cutter shape, real change is made by those who focus on their strengths.
Impressed by yourself.
Living in your strengths is not only for people who want to change the world.
By playing into your strengths, you build confidence and the happiness that comes with it. When you are amazing at something, it feels amazing. That creates a lot more self-confidence than when you are constantly reminded of what you don’t do well.
It is a choice you can make every day.
You don't have to change jobs to start using your strengths. In fact, the best way for you to do any job is by applying your strengths. Even if your colleague with the same job title has a completely different approach to yours, you can both achieve your targets. There’s no one size fits all. (Take note, education system.)
By working together with that colleague, the real magic happens. Combining your different strengths will help you accomplish more than you can imagine.
Being the best.
Once you let go of the "good average human" expectations, you might face another struggle: wanting to be the best. Forget it. You’ll never be the best in the world. Being the best writer, sales person, leader, cook is simply impossible. Who even knows who the best cook in the world is? You don't have to be the best to call something your strength.
There's only one thing you'll be the best at: your unique combo of strengths.
Keep working with, and on, your strengths. Step out of your comfort zone, but stay in your strengths. That’s how you become the best version of yourself. It will feel exhilarating.
Bill Gates can’t cook.
You probably have much more weaknesses than strengths.
That is true for everyone. Do you think that Bill Gates is also a good cook? He says he's not. And there are lots of other things he's bad at. Does it bother him? No. Not trying to improve his weaknesses gives him more time to build on his strengths.
And that one friend who seems to be amazing at everything? Ask yourself: what are they not doing? The answer is probably everything that isn't fit to their strengths. Those things they delegate, eliminate or avoid. Great choice.
And so should you. It will make you happier, more confident.
Ignore all weaknesses?
Should you ignore all of your weaknesses? Well, no.
You are part of a society in which some basic skills are needed for your happiness and survival. Like doing some kind of socializing. If you’re not good at cracking jokes in big group conversations, try to find a way to socialize that’s close to who you are.
For example, try to have one-to-one conversations with people who share a common interest. For me, morning visits to the dog park have become an important part of my social life. We talk about our dogs and personal lives while walking. It’s perfect for an introvert like me.
Find your strengths.
Being aware of your strengths is the first step.
But it’s easy to confuse your strengths with your skills. A friend of mine recently said; “my strength is building powerpoint slides".
Lucky for him, this isn’t true. Creating powerpoint slides is a skill. His strength is a natural talent underpinning that. In his case, I think it might be storytelling. That’s a strength he can choose to apply to a multitude of things, like leadership, sales conversations, video scripting, parenting etc… Not just creating powerpoints.
A skill is an expression of how you’ve been using a strength so far, not the strength itself.
Curious about your strengths?
Start a list with compliments you get from people who know you. What are they about?
Add from your own experience. What activities come easier to you than others?
What could be the underlying strengths of these skills?
Choose one to focus on for the coming week.
When you focus on your own strength, even for just a week, you will blow your own mind.