I was going through some old papers recently and I found a contract hand written by me when I was about 10 years old, saying:
To Sarah Smith and Tom Taylor
This contract is for both of you to sign, to say that you can’t lie to each other and if you have something to say to each other you say it yourself and to their face including any dumpings! Thank you for your co-operation.
From, the Love Doctor.
_________ ________ __________
Miss Hamilton Miss Smith Mr Taylor
Note 1: I’ve changed the names of the “clients” to maintain their confidentiality 🙂
Note 2: We were at the age where we would get our friends to dump our boyfriends for us at lunch time and have a new boyfriend by the time school finished – not cool.
Finding this made me laugh but it also shows that even as a child I gravitated towards helping people, and as it turns out, helping them to live in line with their values (assuming Miss Smith and Mr Taylor valued honesty and integrity).
As kids we are pretty good at knowing our talents.
Some things come naturally to us, other things don’t but we generally just let that stuff go. We spend time doing the things we like doing (the things we’re good at). We try to convince our siblings to play the games we know we will win. We tell people when we’re good at stuff. We confidently give ourselves names like the Love Doctor.
But somewhere along the way we are told to stop being silly, that life isn’t just about doing the things we like. That we have to work hard to fix the stuff we’re not good at. We lose our trust in our talents. We think that our flaws are more defining than our strengths. We believe that in order to be happy and to live our best life, we have to overcome our weaknesses.
That’s a big burden to be carrying around our whole lives.
And the thing is – it’s not even true. Fixing our flaws does not equate to a full, meaningful life. Trying to be perfect doesn’t make us happy. It makes us neurotic and fake and unhappy.
According to the field of positive psychology, it turns out we had it right as kids. Focusing on our strengths and spending time doing the things we love and are naturally skilled at makes our lives better.
Positive psychology is the science of understanding and promoting resilience, happiness, growth, achievement and other aspects of positive human development. And knowing, and using, our natural strengths is a big part of all of it.
Okay sure, sometimes we will have to do things we hate doing because that’s what being a responsible adult calls. And maybe because of your job or other situation there are some weaknesses that you have to improve on. But this is about making sure that the balance is tipped in favour of focusing on our strengths as much as possible. That we are searching for meaning rather than avoiding discomfort.
And the research shows that making choices in our lives and careers based on our talents helps us to create a meaningful life.
When we actively pursue and strengthen our natural talents we are happier and more effective. It feels like life makes sense and that we are doing what we are meant to do. It’s where the magic happens, naturally, even if it seems weird or different to what other people are into.
This concept is hard for us to trust. You might be thinking won’t life fall apart if I don’t fix my flaws? Surely I can’t be successful just by focusing on my strengths?!
Trust me, I have these thoughts too – not because they are true but because we are conditioned to think this way.
It takes courage to focus on our strengths because it isn’t the status quo, it isn’t what we are used to. But focusing on our natural talents and deliberately finding positive ways to incorporate them into our life will make us more fulfilled and productive.
The first step is knowing what your strengths are.
Which actually can be really hard.
They aren’t necessarily what people praise you for or the list of skills on your resume. They are the parts of life that just come so naturally to you, that give you a natural high and make you feel alive.
In fact, they might feel so natural that you don’t even think of them as a strength, you just have a sense that “well of course I do that, doesn’t everybody?”. Or you may have been seeing it as a weakness. I’ll give you an example from my own strengths profile.
One of my top 5 strengths according to this test that has a work focus, is WOO or winning others over. When I read the description I was in total shock. It described the natural thrill that I get from meeting and connecting with new people. I am on a total high when I’m able to find common ground and connect with someone I’ve never met before. I’m naturally motivated to work out what it is that will connect us (and because one of my other strengths is connectedness I automatically believe that I will be able to connect with basically every person I meet). I feel completely engaged in the moment, excited and happy. Even writing about it gives me a little thrill! It has served me well when I have moved interstate, travelled overseas by myself, and at networking or social events.
But before taking the test I didn’t see it as a strength. It just happened so naturally that I hardly thought about it and I was always surprised that other people weren’t as excited about meeting strangers as I was.
Sometimes I would even see it as a weakness because I wouldn’t necessarily follow-up with everyone after having these wonderful connections. But the strengths test taught me that the golden moment is in the new connection itself and that moment is special to me whether or not I ever see the person again (and it just wouldn’t be humanly possible to stay in touch with everyone I have ever connected with!).
If you’re not sure of your strengths these questions might help you to identify them:
- What were the things you loved doing as a child? What role did you like to play in games?
- As a teenager, were there things you were known for? Subjects at school that you genuinely enjoyed? Extra-curricular activities that motivated you?
- What aspects of life just feel really easy to you without much effort?
- Do you show similar positive traits across different aspects of your life?
- Are there things that you are known for that aren’t necessarily in your job description?
- What situations, processes or activities give you a little thrill (even if it seems silly!)?
- What could you happily lose yourself in for long periods of time?
If you’re still not sure, or you want some confirmation, why not ask the people close to you? You could ask your partner, family, children, boss, employees, colleagues and friends. It is best to ask people that you have different relationships with and look for common themes across contexts. I did this about a year ago and even though it felt a bit scary and uncomfortable at the time, it was worth it.
And/or you can also do this free online test.
Now that you know your strengths you can take proactive steps to increase your opportunities to use them.
For some people it might be something big like changing jobs. But for most of us we can find lots of ways in our current lives to bring our natural talents and strengths to the forefront.
We also want to decrease our focus and time on our weaknesses or flaws. If you are responsible for a task that falls outside of your skill set, try to outsource or delegate it if you can, or find a way to do the task that still utilizes your gifts as much as possible.
Remember, it’s about progress not perfection. It’s not about saying you will never do anything outside of your natural strengths again but rather it’s about looking for your chances to shine and feel happier in what you do more often.
But like I said above, this will take courage.
It’s not necessarily easy and you will need to ignore your “monkey mind” that tells you lies about needing to fix your weaknesses. Stay focused on the prize – getting to live your own version of your healthiest, happiest life.
Find as many of the little (and maybe big) ways to bring your talents out more often. You will make the world a better place for it.
And if you want to share your strengths, or how you are going to give them more air time, in the comments below I would love to hear about it!
With wishes for your peace, health and happiness,
The wannabe Love Doctor (except I want to be a love-your-life doctor! That’s my “positivity” strength coming out 🙂 ).