Getting to know yourself again – finding your strengths
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You know that phrase, ‘love what you do and do what you love’? It can sound so simple yet so aspirational all at the same time – yes of course we want to love what we do, but reality can bite…hard…and with bills to pay and mouths to feed we just need to crack on, don’t we? Now hands up, I’m a realist so I’m not going to sugar coat anything BUT as a big fan of helping people use their strengths, I reckon we can build a life that makes us happy on the regular, doing what we love.
When tiny humans come along it alters so much of what you do and how you do it, that it can be really hard to keep track of your own identity. You’ve probably described your identity in the context of what you do for a long time, and then post-baby; it’s become about being somebody’s Mum – which is obviously a big part but it’s not the only version of you. You still have your unique set of values, beliefs, skills, weaknesses and all that’s in between. You’re still you, just with more hangers on.
I’ve worked as a Strengths Coach for about seven years now mainly in a corporate environment, but more recently I’ve gone solo, working with parents who are returning to work after any sort of parental leave or career break. It tends to be Mums returning from Maternity or Adoption Leave, but I would welcome any Dads if you’re reading!!
This is the first instalment of a series of posts that will help you figure out when you’re at your best, how to make sure you’ve got a decent amount of doing what you love going on, how to tackle your weaknesses in a practical and realistic way and then maintain all that good stuff!
The first thing I need to introduce you to is the concept that strengths are things that leave you feeling energised, awesome and even if you’re not skilfully good at it right now, you could be in the future. What does that actually mean I hear you ask? Well, have a think about all the things you’ve been told you’re good at over the years – you got a few things? Ok, now cross check that with your reaction to said feedback…did you raise an eyebrow and think ‘erm, well yeah it’s ok but it’s not my favourite thing to do.’ That’s because that particular thing you’re being praised for was a competency, a learned skill – not a natural strength that left you wanting to punch the air with glee. Making sense?
Knowing your strengths is so important and can help on loads of levels. You can get to know yourself better, have more meaningful conversations at work (and home!), and carve out your life to spend more time doing what you love. Using your strengths helps to build your resilience, drive your authenticity and from a work point of view will help you feel more engaged with what you’re doing. And if you’re an employer reading this I’m sure you’re already aware of the link between engagement and your company performance! (hint: it’s really good).
So how do you get to know your strengths? Well there are lots of different online questionnaires and psychometric tools that can help you, but if that’s not an option or your style here are some questions to send you on your way:
• When you’ve got a list of things to do, what do you choose to do first? If you have a look over a few days or weeks, you’ll find some consistency in the types of things you go for.
• What makes you pick those things? Is it who you’re working with on them, is it a particular way of working (creatively, being in the detail, collaborating with others etc).
• What do you find fun? What do you love doing? What keeps your focus and attention? Your strengths are driven by your values, so you’re more likely to stick to doing something if it’s in line with your own beliefs.
• When you’re feeling positive and relaxed, what are you doing? Consciously tuning into how you’re feeling when you’re doing something is a really good way to figure out what you’re energised by. It’s so easy to let things become transactional and background noise but paying attention to your energy levels is a sure-fire way to pin point those oh-so-important energisers.
Grab a piece of paper and scribble away or if you’re more in touch with technology (than me) grab your phone and make some notes but however you do it put it somewhere you can access easily and that’s visible. The idea is that you can add to it as things spring to mind. This is the first step in building a brilliant picture of when you feel brilliant and how you can make even better use of your strengths, so hold on to it.
The next section is going to be about how to put them into practice and face into weaknesses with positive psychology…catch up soon!