If You’re Not Sure What You’re Good At, It’s Time to Listen to What Friends and Family Say
Table of Contents
- 1 We’re often told to be true to ourselves when choosing a career path, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what that means. Are you struggling to find what you are good at, find your ‘innate talent’ and discover your strengths? Listening to what others say is a great way to get clarity and insight.
- 2 Kick It Into a Higher Gear
- 3 1. Listen to What People Said About You As A Child
- 4 2. Listen to What People Tell You Now
- 5 3. Ask Your Friends, Family and Coworkers
- 6 Found your superpower? Don’t hide it away.Take the next step on your career path armed with your new self-knowledge.
We’re often told to be true to ourselves when choosing a career path, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what that means. Are you struggling to find what you are good at, find your ‘innate talent’ and discover your strengths? Listening to what others say is a great way to get clarity and insight.
Why look from the outside rather than from within? Because many of us struggle to recognise what we’re good at, only noticing what we lack. This can prove challenging when it comes time to convince a new employer or client to hire you. While this can sometimes be due to a lack of confidence, we live in a social world that does not encourage us to focus on our own strengths. For instance:
- Performance reviews at work often focus on what needs to be fixed, not what is going well.
- Grades and scorecards are designed to show you how you might improve next time.
- We compare our social media feeds to others, noticing what our friends seem to have that we lack.
Leon Festinger, a psychologist, named this phenomenon ‘social comparison theory’ in 1954. He thought we evaluate our self-worth based on others, using the people around us as measuring sticks.
Impressive when you consider that this was well before the birth of social media, no? Today, it has renewed relevance. A powerful blend of selective self-sharing, algorithms and comparison creates a distorted lens that we view the world and our selves through. We will never, ever feel like enough when we take cues from social media. Our view of ourselves isn’t accurate.
A crucial part of getting an opportunity is showing someone why you’re the right person, by demonstrating what you can contribute. That is the purpose of a job interview. People, as a rule, are interested in what you can do for them – not the other way around.
Without knowledge of our strengths and abilities, how can we convince anyone else of them? Put them to use in the job search? Choose which new skills to acquire?
Kick It Into a Higher Gear
Contrast this to a time when you were in a role that you resisted. It was a bad fit for you. It did not make use of your strengths. No matter what you did, how much effort you put in, things just didn’t seem to go your way, in that role or the rest of your life. You were grinding away in first and second gear. Remember that song line from the Friends theme song ‘I’ll be there for you’?
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
When it hasn’t been your day, your week
Your month, or even your year
A common response to a bad fit is blaming the situation on yourself; you weren’t good enough.
But really, it was a mismatch between role and human. It didn’t mesh well with your particular strengths, talents and abilities.
To use your strengths, you have to know what they are. It’s time to start recognising them and putting them to use.
An excellent way to get your thoughts flowing is to take an online assessment. There’s a great one here. If you’d like, there’s also a well-regarded book to work through called Strengthsfinder 2.0, but it’s much more in-depth.
Done that? Fabulous. I hope you were pleasantly surprised. Now it’s time to listen to the people around you.
1. Listen to What People Said About You As A Child
What were you like as a kid? When you introduce a new friend or partner to your parents, what are the funny stories they’ll tell? Try asking your parents for stories about you as a kid, and see if you can’t draw out some themes.
My parents will usually tell stories of the wacky comics I was obsessed with drawing, or the epic many-stranded narrative games my sister and I would play with our toys. On the other hand, my friend was on all the sports teams, and always got picked first. She cleaned up in the athletics competitions every year. People were always saying how sporty and active she was.
What were people always saying about you as a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up? Better yet, what were you singled out for, maybe even teased for? Another friend of mine had an innate ability to do maths in her head; the other kids called her the ‘walking calculator’. The lesson to take from that is not that she was a weirdo, but rather that she had a gift for working with numbers.
You’re best at being you at two times in your life. When you’re a kid, and when you’re old and wrinkly.
From an excellent TED Talk by Caroline McHugh, called “The art of being yourself”.
That kid is still an important part of you.
That’s who you are. That’s what you’re really good at. Whether it was bringing people together; taking things apart to figure out how they worked; moving your body with strength and grace, or building complex imaginary worlds… the list goes on.
How people would describe you as a child
you being yourself
2. Listen to What People Tell You Now
The Compliments You Ignore
Listen to the compliments you often receive and ignore. A big clue can come in the form of the compliments that you wave away as if they were nothing because you hear them so often. “You’re so organised and efficient,” your teammates would tell you when working on a group project at school. To you, this seems commonplace, since you’ve always been like this. Surely everyone finds it easy, too. But they don’t! Just because you’re used to it, doesn’t mean it’s common. My athletic friend thought that her strengths were no big deal because they came quickly to her, and she would often say she ‘wasn’t good at anything’. This just sounded silly to those of us who struggled to learn basketball or even finish the long distance runs. She was so naturally good at many things, she just didn’t see it.
Gather Existing Feedback
Get together any formal feedback you’ve received, whether that’s in the form of performance reviews at work, learning assessments, or appreciative emails you’ve received. Can you see any common themes, things that people say over and over in different ways?
Remember Your Best Times
Write down a list of your peak life achievements, or times when you excelled. Was there a time when someone said you did an outstanding job? What did they say, specifically? Which aspects did they comment on?
Look for themes and common threads in all of these things. Are there some things that repeatedly come up? How are they related? Do they both use similar mental processes?
3. Ask Your Friends, Family and Coworkers
Pick 10 people you trust. They don’t have to be close friends and family, but they can be. They can also be coworkers, mentors, or anybody else that knows you reasonably well and has seen you in a few different situations.
Now, ask them to tell you your top 3-5 strengths and/or abilities. Explain, if you like, that you’re doing this as an exercise to help you clarify your career direction. It can help to supply someone with a list if they’re having trouble coming up with strengths off the top of their head.
Starting List of Talents, Skills and Abilities
|Ability to deal with Failure||Enthusiasm||Maintenance / Routine Tasks||Self Management|
|Ability to focus||Fairness||Making Connections||Self-Assurance|
|Ability to handle Change||Financial Management||Marketing||Self-Discipline|
|Ability to make Friends||Financial Planning||Math||SEO|
|Ability to spot new Trends||Foreign Language||Meeting Management||Sign Language|
|Academics||Future Thinking||Money Management||Singing|
|Adaptability||Graphics||Negotiating Skills||Social Networking|
|Advertising||Guerrilla Marketing||Networking (in the virtual world)||Software|
|Affiliate systems||Health / Fitness||Networking (person to person)||Story Telling|
|Analyzing the past||High Energy||People Judgment||Strategic Planning|
|Art||Hiring / Recruiting||Personal Productivity||Systems management|
|Asking Questions||Identify Strengths and Weaknesses||Photography||Teaching / Training|
|Awareness||Imaginative||Polyglot (learn/know a many languages)||Trouble-shooter|
|Brainstorming||Innovation||Problem Solving||Video Creation|
|Computer Literacy||Integrity / Honesty||Project Management||Volunteering|
|Computers / IT||Intuition||Public Speaking||Website|
|Conflict Resolution||Inventiveness||Raise Money||Wisdom|
|Creativity||Jokes / Humor||Reading||Woodworking|
|Detail Orientation||Learner||Relieve Stress|
Feel free to come up with your own, or take suggestions from the people you asked.
Get them to picture you in 5 or 10 years, and ask them what they imagine you doing every day. This can be a revealing exercise, and often ends up sounding bang on – especially if the person knows you well.
Whether you’re contemplating a career change, or you’re choosing career paths for the first time, knowing what you’re really good at is really, really important. Listen to what others have to say to discover your strengths – you may be surprised!
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