Owning Your Gifts: How ‘learning our strengths’ leads to lives that we love

How much of your deep inner gifts would you say that you bring to the market, the world outside of you, at home or at work every day?

Do you give your best to yourself? Do you know how to name it? Do your spouse, friends and colleagues co-conspire, to bring you the tasks that they know you’ll just crush, while truly loving it?

I’m willing to bet that the extent to which we share our authentic best, our true inner gifts that are inexhaustible and nearly free for us to offer, hovers right around the level of workplace engagement that Gallup reports, which bounces between a dismal 31% and 36%.

That’s an F minus minus minus in bringing our authentic gifts, our inexhaustible and infinitely natural-to-access internal resources, to market. Pretty pathetic.

But what if we all knew what those essential inner gifts were? What if we could name them? 

Even better, what if our unique inner resources were as clear and as certain to us as our external anatomy - as confidently point-to and point-outable as kids name their own head, shoulders, knees, and toes?

Learning the anatomy of our unique personal strengths can enable us to navigate tough situations more easily, create and secure more fantastic or generative opportunities we love, and steer our networks and teams to more consistently route us the tasks and kinds of roles that we’ll love.

When this happens intentionally, it feels amazing — A consistent source of engagement, a ridiculously fun button poking collaboration and curiosity, a hard-to-pin-down phenomenon that grants infinite, spontaneous opportunities to enjoy our own experience and feel our life and interactions “fit.”

The first step to that journey is to name our own gifts.

Think of the 2002 movie Spiderman’s key namesake moment, through the example of Toby Maguire. The day after he’s bit by the spider, Toby wakes up feeling fuzzy, staring diligently into the mirror to take stock of his wild new muscles, concerned but committed. He examines them closely, experiments at first with small activities and new gestures in the house, then builds up safely and comfort and gradually moves on to take larger and larger leaps through the alleys and skyscrapers of the outside world. 

Knowing your strengths, i.e. inventorying your new powers, is as simple as taking the CliftonStrengths test. (You can choose either the 5 Top Strengths or total list of 34 Strengths as your starting option). It’ll cost you between $20-50 plus tax; CliftonStrengths is the world leader in this field, and I think the 34 is worth it.

Once you learn your strengths, the trick is to keep them front-of-mind for a period of months. Personally, I spent 5 minutes of “maker time,” grabbed a $2 foam board from Target and some sharpies, wrote my top 12 strengths coded by color (each of which has meaning), and added in their descriptions so I could learn them gradually later. You can also use a sheet of paper you tape to your wall near your monitor.

Once your strengths are visible and persistent, the next step is to start experimenting with “living into them” daily or weekly. I started out with an experiment I learned from LaTondra Murray and Rachel Rodgers - aim to spend 80% of your daily or weekly time in your strengths, review your calendar at the end of the day or the week to note when you were in versus out, and note the impact of your alignment on your energy and enjoyment at work or on projects.

In reflecting this way, the goal isn’t to just cancel the work that doesn’t fit, or grade your performance. 

Instead, start to collect and note the things that *weren’t* in your strengths on a “NOT to do list” (as Wendy Papasan calls it) that shows how you’re currently led out of your strengths. This list eventually feeds your future job descriptions: for a future VA, a friend who offers a helping hand, or your group’s next team member. This list makes an excellent starter for boundaries to set, scope to reduce, or future manager or spouse conversations on what to remove from your plates to free up resources for your team or family’s higher priorities.

These few short steps lead the way to exponentially more engaging lives, in our work, home, and play. We identify strengths through assessment; build a constant, visible display as the key reminder; then use practical experiments and reflections to ease more of our time into Strengths Time, and more excellent ideas for delegating or partnering in our “NOT to do lists,” which we can tactically manage out of our calendars and lives.

The more on that “NOT to do” list, the more we get to engage folks in our environment with complementary strengths. This doubles the magic, as these tend to be folks I might have clashed with or overlooked previously. It turns out that as we commit to remain in 80% of our own strengths, we compete less with others, value others more, and relieve others of the pressure we so easily place on them to try to earn our appreciation as “less awesome versions of ourselves.”

On teams that run on 80% strengths, authenticity, collaboration, and appreciation run rampant, and because each person’s strengths are necessary and important, each person gets to go home feeling meaningful and needed on their team and like a crucial leader and contributor toward meaningful and fulfilling results.

Projects, lives, and 1-1 conversations improve, along with satisfaction, clear communication, and relationships.

Stop struggling invisibly. Give it a try, and let me know the 5 top strengths or features of your inner anatomy! I’m stoked to hear more about what you discover for yourself, your project, or your team.

Great weekend to all,