Do you sometimes make the mistake my friend Tammy makes? (I know I have.)
Tammy is a good writer. But whenever I tell her that she’s a good writer, that writing is one of her strengths, she responds with something like, “Thank you. But there are so many people who write better than I do. I have so much to learn about writing.” And that’s how Tammy convinces herself that she’s not a good enough writer. In fact, whenever Tammy tries to identify any of her own strengths, she struggles to come up with something to put on the list. Tammy confuses being good at a thing with being the best at that thing.
This a tempting trap for many people, myself included. It is a noble goal to excel, to become an expert. But you don’t have to be an expert at something for that something to be a strength that has value. You can be good at something without being the best in the whole world, the best in your country, or even the best in your own home. Calling something a strength does not mean you are done learning how to use that strength.
For those of you grew up being a perfectionist, like me, how do you know what’s good enough? And how do you identify real strengths you can embrace without your inner perfectionist arguing with you?
1. First, you need to re-frame your perspective on the subject. One way to do this is to make a list of the people you love. Then, for each one of them, make a list of their top strengths or skills. Now go back and review your lists, for each strength or skill you identified, ask yourself, is that person the best at that strength? Are they an expert in that skill? While you may have an occasional “yes,” most of your answers will be “no.” Now, ask yourself, do these strengths and skills still have value? Of course they do. Consider how this also applies to your strengths and skills.
2. Next, you can begin to identify your own list. My favorite strategy is to contact 3-5 people you trust to tell you the truth, and ask them to list your top three strengths and top three skills. This helps you see yourself from a different perspective. These lists describe how other people see you, people you like and trust. (Note: No matter what your inner perfectionist does to tempt you, do not ask for weaknesses. Let’s be honest, you have that list already.)
3. Spend time meditating on this quote, “Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke. I have a version of this written in special calligraphy and framed in my home, as a reminder.
Your talent, your strengths and skills, have value. No one has the same combination of strengths, skills and passions as you do. This is what you uniquely offer. This is what I encourage you to embrace, celebrate, and leverage into a thriving career.
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