Don’t Forget Your Strengths

Wrapped up in the daily grind, we can forget what value we bring to our relationships, workplace, and even ourselves. Life becomes routine. We closely tie our identity to “what we do” for a living. It becomes challenging to make changes: switch careers, move cities, or leave a relationship. Yet despite that predictability, we are dynamic beings–constantly learning new skills and forgetting others. One unfortunate side effect of this lifestyle is simply forgetting what we’re good at. To say it another way, sometimes we need others to remind us of our strengths.

If I asked you to make a list of your greatest strengths, I’m sure you could easily jot a few down. I’m sure you’ve done this in personal reflection or part of a self-development course. And after a while, I’m willing to guess your answers start to get a little repetitive? Of course I’m good with numbers! Or, undoubtedly I’m a great team player! We’ve probably been told these things time and time again–and pretty soon it becomes reality. After a while, you’re just known as that person. We undoubtedly associate our identity with being a humanitarian,  a fitness guru, or the life of the party. And while this self-awareness is beneficial, we might be missing pieces of the puzzle.

What value do you provide your network in which they can’t find anywhere else?

Are you a go-to resource for all things yoga? Are you always up-to-date on the latest political story? Do you possess deep empathy for those less fortunate that you? What seems second nature to you, may actually be quite valuable to others. Successfully identifying those gifts can help grow your professional work, develop a side business, or simply improve your relationships with others. Regardless of whether or not you choose to monetize these skills, it’s enlightening to be reminded of some of your greatest assets. With that in mind, what exactly are your greatest strengths?

Why don’t you make that list right now. Go for it–I’ll wait. In fact, I’ll write mine while we’re at it…

In the interest of making a point, I sourced this list from a February 2014 journal entry. Admittedly I modified it to fit the context of this question, but the gist is there.

Did you finish your list? Good! Let’s keep going.

For me, I would say the above traits were, and still are some of my greater strengths. But what if I missed a couple? What if the value I bring to others is so deeply ingrained in who I am, that it’s not quite so obvious?

Going through the following exercise, my network was able to shed light on a myriad of skills I never even considered. So in the vein of discovering some of these strengths for yourself, I want to share an exercise recommended to me by a handful of entrepreneurs. I found great value in this experiment and believe you will too. All you need is a few close contacts and a couple thoughtful emails.

Remembering Your Strengths

Below is a simple, eye-opening email which can help you develop a new community, hobby, or business idea without any risk to you (except the rejection of your recipients, I suppose). Think of 4-6 people you know and trust. Consider both how they know you and for how long they have known you. Do you best to diversify the list as it will lead to equally revealing insights. Send them the following email:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Hello (their name),

The current period of my life is full of self-discovery, honing passions, and focusing energy on meaningful work. In light of this, I’m asking for your help (and I’ll help you too!). I’ve realized that many of our strengths can be oblivious to us; they come so naturally. To help me identify some of my assets, I have the following fill-in-the-blank for you:

When I have a specific question about X, I email/call/text (your name) because he/she will know the answer. What is X? In other words, what are those very specific issues in which I help you solve?

Below is my answer for you–I hope you find value in it! Please respond when you have time. Three to five ideas will do!

Of all the people I know, If I have questions about…

  • one…
  • two…
  • three…
  • four…
  • five very nice and thoughtful things

…I would email/call/text (their name).

Thanks for your support!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Sounds pretty simple, right? Good! Because it is! Perhaps your reason for asking is a little different than mine, but just tailor it to your liking. I encourage you to actually complete the exercise for each person–don’t skip it! You get what you give! By doing so, I was able to get some very thoughtful responses.

In my own experiment, I discovered a handful of unique and creative skills. Few of them appeared on my self-generated list above. Here are a few nuggets so hidden from me that I never would’ve considered them:

  • How to throw a really excellent dinner party
  • I think of you as a sort of expert on financial issues
  • You would definitely be someone to consult if I were planning a big trip, especially an international one
  • a wedding date with expert dancing skills
  • Cheering. Ben Horowitz says that there are generally two kinds of friends- those you go to when things are shitty, and those you go to when you have big wins. You are one of the latter for me.
  • What the hell I’m doing with my life in the long run–it seems broad, but it’s hard to talk to most people about this objectively
  • The perspective of disengaging with the dominant consumer culture

Wow, what great and thoughtful responses from my network! Thanks guys!

Much like my list, personal finance and an emphasis on strong friendships made an appearance. But replicating these results would’ve been near impossible. Some of these nuggets helped me craft this blog, while others I’ve pocketed for future business concepts or used them to improve my relationships/lifestyle. Another tangible benefit was my friend and I sharing a great moment together. People love hearing good news! And as it turns out, your network was able to describe me better than I could. Let’s take a closer look at ways I interpret this list:

  • In a few short emails, I have a handful of business ideas: being an international travel consultant, working in personal finance, or offering myself as a freelance wedding date. I’m not sure if the last business exists, but it seems genius! On second thought, that just sounds like an escort.
  • In a few short emails, I have ways to improve my relationships: celebrate big victories with others, throw a dinner party for friends and family, or discuss ways to decouple ourselves from excessive consumer culture.
  • In a few short emails, I’m reminded that my original list of strengths is nowhere near as robust. And as an added bonus, just reading that list made me feel good–it inspired me! I hope the experience was equally as fruitful for my recipients.

Take The Challenge

Do you have hidden talents? You too can use this method to identify your most valuable assets. Copy + paste the above email, tweak it as required, and spend time thinking about the results. I’m curious to see how your personal list compares to those generated by your network. Feel free to post any insights in the comments below!

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