You've heard the expression. You've used it, too, most likely.
"Play to your strengths!"
It seems obvious, although there are certainly management and human development philosophies that would argue with that strategy. But that's for another time.
Playing to your strengths is another way of saying you should share your gifts, or exhibit your mastery. Personally, I think that doing what you do best is absolutely a key to living a fulfilled life. It's hard to be in that low-friction, high-satisfaction "flow state" that we all seek if you aren't acting from an area of strength.
Ok, so what? As I said, it seems obvious. So here's the thing - do you know your strengths? I mean, do you really know what they are?
See, I thought I had a good idea of them. And there are definitely obvious strengths of which I am fully aware. For example, I know that I feel comfortable and get good results when I'm doing analytical work - assessing a complex situation to understand its components and variables. And I know that I am good at identifying solutions to problems, taking ownership of the solution, and helping a group implement it well.
What I didn't recognize until recently is that there are skills at play that are more distinct than I knew. That complex analysis and solution design? It's another way of describing Strategic thinking. Taking ownership? That's Responsibility. Helping a team of others achieve a goal? That's what a Developer does.
I learned about these by taking some time and investing a bit of money in myself. I took a specific assessment that identifies strengths. (Because, "Play to your strengths!") It was definitely helpful to put names and more specific descriptions on these skills with which I've always felt a comfort.
Beyond that, however, I was surprised to have a few other skills highlighted as strengths. I think we all downplay some of our abilities, or perhaps fail to recognize them. For me, there's a skill called Connectedness that I take for granted. It includes having a belief that we are all part of something larger. While I believe that in my own, non-dogmatic way, I didn't see that as a key piece of something else related: I tend to build bridges between disparate groups and help define a larger purpose that can be inspiring.
Having my strengths assessed, while not necessarily an exact science, was really helpful to me. It allows me to focus and strengthen my work and my life ... yup, by playing to my strengths.
What are your strengths? Share them in the Comments section!