In coaching mid- to high-level professionals in corporate and entrepreneurial roles, I’ve found that, despite the level of success they have achieved, over 80% don’t know what they’re talented at, and what stands them apart from others in their work. This floors me, because the reality is that if you can’t identify and name your amazing talents and abilities, that you can’t leverage them to the fullest. And that means not only a lot of money left on the table, but also juicy roles, fascinating projects and thrilling outcomes that you could be engaged in but aren’t.
Why do so many people fail to recognize the talents they have?
My research has shown that there are three top reasons for not identifying clearly your natural talents and how you stand out:
#1: What comes easily to you seems unremarkable
Each of us has our own wonderful set of skills, talents and abilities – some of which have been forged through education, hard work and effort, but others have come very easily to us, from early childhood onward.
In my own life for instance, I was a singer and performer from an early age, and I loved the stage. I was a top tennis player, and thrived on competition. I also loved writing, reading, thinking about new ideas and innovation, literature, psychology, and helping people sort out their biggest worries and challenges. These things came easily to me, as easy as breathing. That’s why the work I do now is so joyful – because it taps into what I naturally love to do and am good at. And it’s also why so much of my 18-year corporate career was unhappy and uninspiring. It didn’t leverage my most joyful and natural talents and abilities.
Great talents that have been with us since the beginning often don’t seem remarkable or valuable to us, but they are. And these are the talents you should be leveraging for a happier, more financially and emotionally rewarding career.
What to do about it: Take some time this week (at least an hour or two) and make a list of every job you’ve ever had. Then dimensionalize the actual skills, talents and capabilities you utilized to get this job done well. Write down every skill or talent used, then the important outcomes this talent or ability helped you achieved.
Here’s an example:
Built important client relationships that lead to substantially increased revenue (skill: listening, relationship-building, client development)
Mediated key differences between our clients and our marketing team to create more effective promotions (skill: mediation, marketing, promotion, client relationship management)
Devised and delivered successful new products based on market research to help the company diversify its offerings (skill: innovation, product development, product management, marketing)
Conducted market and other research on potential acquisitions to ensure these investments were sound (skill: research, analysis, acquisition)
Communicated with and supported the top media players in my field in ways that highlighted my company’s leaders as pioneers in the field (skill: communications, public relations, relationship-building)
Once you’ve done this exercise, you’ll see more clearly the talents and abilities you have and the measureable positive impact you’ve made in the jobs you’ve loved most.
#2: Your jobs that have gone badly have tainted your perspective
The second reason people fail to identify and leverage their most joyful and valuable talents and abilities is that their confidence has been crushed by jobs that went poorly.
Most everyone who’s worked for at least 10 years has had some role or other go sour. Either the boss was toxic, or you failed at a key aspect of the job, or it was a wrong fit from the beginning and you stayed too long and got hurt.
Sadly, I’ve seen over and over that bad jobs can leave professionals (particularly women) like “bloodied, wounded soldiers on the battlefield” in corporate life, not knowing what hit them. Traumatizing work experiences leave them shattered, insecure, and lacking in the ability to see themselves clearly, or to recognize their valuable skills and talents. They let this one experience wash away all their confidence and their clear-thinking about who they really are and what they’re capable of.
What to do about it: If you’ve experienced pain and trauma in a job, even if it was many years ago, don’t let yourself tell only a crushingly negative story about it. Go back in time, and identify all the good that happened to you in this job as well. Think about what you DID accomplish that was positive – the great relationships you built, and positive innovations or outcomes you created and participated in, the difference you made as a leader and manager, even though the end result was not at all what you hoped. Don’t let a bad work experience destroy your confidence or your ability to see the good that you are capable of and that you are needed, worthwhile and valuable to the workforce.
#3: You’ve never held a job you liked and you think the problem is you
This is much more common than you’d imagine –thousands of professionals have actually never held a job or role that they’ve enjoyed. This leads them to question everything about themselves, and doubt that they have any talent or skill at all.
Why does this happen? Usually it’s because they’ve pursued the wrong career direction. In some cases, they were pushed into studying in school and university a field that they didn’t enjoy because they felt they had to (because of cultural or parental pressure, financial concerns, or living up to someone else’s expectations). Another reason for people never liking the work they do is that they’re actually meant to be entrepreneurs, innovators, or business founders but have attempted to stuff themselves into a corporate box that ends up feeling terrible. (That was me).
What to do about it: If you’ve never had a job you liked, it’s critical to understand why, and to take a different course of action now so you don’t repeat the misery and waste precious time.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What exactly have I disliked about my jobs?
2. Was my unhappiness in these jobs related to the culture, leadership or management, or was it about the fit of the role to my skills and interests?
3. Why did I stay in a job I hated?
4. Looking back before I had these negative job experiences, what is clear about the skills and talents I DO have? What did it feel like when I used those talents that I enjoy?
5. Where might I be able to apply these skills in a more rewarding experience?
6. What types of organizations, fields, and areas truly interest me? Where do I want to make a difference?
7. What’s the legacy I want to leave behind when I die? What do I want to have said, done, and contributed to leave my mark?
8. How can I get on the path (and what different actions can I take) to building that legacy now?
In the end, it’s up to each of us to identify clearly and powerfully what we have to offer in the world, and make use of it, in service of others. No one is going to do that for you. But when you decide and commit to honoring and leveraging your talents, then take different types of actions than you have in the past, your future can change, and you will finally see that your talents are just those that are needed today.
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