Identifying your strengths is one of the most powerful exercises you can do for your personal and professional development.
Too often, we fixate on our flaws or weaknesses. We worry that we’re not smart enough, productive enough, charming enough, etc. But instead of dwelling on our weaknesses, which can easily lead to frustration or resentment, what we should be doing is honing in on and developing our strengths.
Why is it so important to know your strengths?
For one thing, not everyone knows what their strengths are. Workplace culture places so much emphasis on weaknesses and room-for-improvement, that we have trouble recognizing our own strengths.
And second, when you know your strengths, you can then play to your strengths. This will allow you to excel in your career, expand your potential, and align yourself with opportunities that will help you flourish.
Knowing your strengths will also help you…
- Be more confident
- Generate momentum in your personal or professional life
- Focus on doing things that make you happy
- Find a niche in your career
- Create personal and professional goals
So now you might be wondering: What are my strengths? For some people, their strengths lie in their creative and artistic abilities. For others, it’s their interpersonal and networking skills. And for other people, it can be their sense of resilience or compassion.
If you need help determining your strengths, read our guide below. We’ve put together some exercises to help you do some detective work and gain greater awareness of your strengths. You can do this during a quarterly review, solo work retreat, or weekly planning session.
Self-reflection exercise to find your strengths
Journal-writing is a great way to do some introspective work and uncover your strengths. Grab your favorite notebook and use the following questions to help guide you.
What were your past successes?
Think back on the times that you performed well or were at your personal best. Maybe it was the time you gave a successful presentation in front of senior leadership. Or coordinated all the logistics of your wedding like a pro. Or volunteered at a local shelter. Or trained for a marathon.
These successes can shine a light on your personal and professional strengths. Whether it’s your sense of integrity or disciplined action, or ability to juggle multiple projects with timely deadlines, your past successes are strong indicators of your strengths.
What do people go to you for?
Maybe you’re the go-to person in your office for job advice. Or maybe people are always flocking to you for restaurant recommendations. Or seeking your sharp eye for detail or design.
Don’t dismiss something just because it seems too mundane or easy for you. You may not value your photoshop skills or ability to plan meetings, but if your friends and coworkers are always seeking your help, it’s a sure sign that this is challenging for them, and a big strength for you.
What is something you like to learn?
Your strength doesn’t necessarily have to be an innate talent or a skill that’s already fully formed. In fact, a lot of our strengths are going to take time and effort to develop. Look at professional writers, athletes, and entrepreneurs. Their strengths may look effortless, but behind the scenes they’re always seeking to learn and improve.
Maybe you can spend hours learning to edit a podcast. Or you love taking classes on writing and editing. Or learning how to create an eye-pleasing design.
Your eagerness to keep learning and improving can help you tap into your potential and develop it into a strength. And your genuine enthusiasm will help buoy you during the hard and challenging times.
Comb through emails for themes and patterns
Another way to determine your strengths is to comb through old emails and track compliments you’ve received from friends, loved ones, and coworkers.
It’s so easy to hold onto negative comments and criticism, but when it comes to positive words, we easily dismiss them.
Use this moment to really read through these positive messages and take note of what you’re being complimented on.
What adjectives are being used to describe you and your work? What are you being commended for? Do you notice any common themes or patterns in these compliments? Maybe your boss is thanking you for being able to hit the ground running on a new project. Or your family is commending your ability to take charge when disaster strikes.
These compliments could suggest that you’re quick on your feet and can work independently with little guidance.
Ask your peers, coworkers, and managers
To gain clarity on your strengths, it’s also a good idea to ask your peers, coworkers, and managers. After all, we may have blinders on when it comes to viewing our strengths. And what we perceive as normal, everyday tasks, can actually be considered strengths by others. So it’s really important to seek external guidance on this area.
You can send a short email like this:
“I really value your opinion, and I am trying to get a better sense of my strengths. Could you share 1-2 examples of things you think are my strengths?"
You can also ask your manager during your next one-on-one meeting. If you’re feeling nervous about asking them, remember that knowing your strengths will benefit you and the team as a whole.
If you’re a freelancer, try reaching out to current and past clients. Not only will their assessment help you determine your strengths, but you can use this information to help better market your services.
Look to your heroes
Make a list of people you admire. This can be family members, people you work with, leaders, famous historical figures, or fictional characters. Use this as an exercise to compare qualities in yourself and the people you admire.
Perhaps the common throughline of the people you admire is that they all possess grit and perseverance. Maybe you’ll find that the strengths that you admire in your heroes, are also strengths that you are seeking to develop in yourself.
Written by JiJi Lee.