Identify Your Strengths!
A new focus. The big buzz in personal, college and management development right now is called the Strengths Movement. All over the country, in colleges, corporations, in bookstores and on websites, it seems as though it’s the strategy that everyone is embracing. The general idea, that you get further ahead by focusing your effort on your strengths than on your weaknesses, is hotly debated, but interesting because of its power to motivate and focus the effort of students and employees.
Strengths, not weaknesses. We often focus on our weaknesses, as if spending all our time fixing what’s weak is really going to help us become excellent. Bringing a skill to functional competence is necessary; it’s one reason colleges have placement exams and graduation competencies. And, like it or not, you need basic skills in a number of areas, especially math and communication (both speaking and writing) in order to interact with and be employed in the working world. By this point in your life, you may already know if you are “good” at math or science or have a special gift for a specific area. The strengths movement is about pushing real and intentional energy into the areas of greatest ability.
Studies on people who love what they do and are successful in life (whatever their actual job might be) show that it is identifying and supporting our strengths that can make the biggest difference in our satisfaction with our lives. Living a life based on our strengths (what we love doing and are good at) can be an expected (but unacknowledged) goal of college students.
Not by accident. It takes curiosity, courage and a sense of optimism in order to determine and acknowledge what you are good at! But when those strengths align with career goals… look out! It’s rocket fuel for your future success!
Finding your strengths. You can start to identify your talents and skills in a number of ways! Chip Anderson identified these general qualities as potential strengths indicators:
- Your responses and your feelings can hint at your strengths:
- Your hopes, dreams and longings
- Experiencing joy and delight when engaged in the activity
- Experiencing a sense of destiny or “rightness”
- Being passionate about something
- Ability/Acquisition of knowledge and skills can indicate strengths:
- A deep sense of satisfaction about learning
- Places where your learning seems rapid
- Any area with instant insights and understandings
- Actual performance parameters can indicate strengths:
- Where you perform at levels of excellence, even if for short periods
- Consistent patterns of success in a particular role, context or set of tasks
- Doing something well and almost effortlessly
- Visit the Academic and Career Planning Office for additional resources or pointers.
- Talk to your advisor, instructors, parents and peers to learn how they discovered their strengths.
Defining flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "cheeks-sent-me-high") is credited with using the word "flow" to describe moments of peak experience closely tied to our deepest self. He defined “flow” as the state in which we are so completely absorbed in a task that we barely notice the passage of time. Otherwise known as “being in the zone" or the Zen sense of “mindfulness,” most of us are familiar with the concept of flow. It turns out that you can use moments of flow as landmarks of your strengths. You might want to read Csikszentmihalyi’s book titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience or search for more info on the Web about his ideas.
Commercial website Tests. The Clifton Strengths Finder 2.0, Strengths Quest (an older version of the same text) and Now, Discover your Strengths are a series of books and related websites built around the Gallup Poll Organization’s work on positive psychology and research on the lives of thousands of energized, satisfied people. They code your responses into 34 signature themes. The site must be accessed by a code (one use only) sold with one of these books. This movement has a lot of strength behind it (pun intended) and connects to both education and business applications.
A website you might find useful or amusing is Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania
It features a number of interesting questionnaires, some of which are related to strengths.