Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Strengths & Talents: Finding one's life mission or purpose

Some meditations, now, inspired by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton's Now, Discover Your Strengths.

We should probably note the title: Now, Discover Your Strengths. Buckingham and Clifton focus on that word strength or talent. You are strong in an area, they say, if you can produce "consistent near perfect performance" (p. 25) and you "can fathom yourself doing [that activity] repeatedly, happily, and successfully" (p. 26). "The acid test of a strength is that you can do it consistently and near perfectly" (p. 56).

The authors define talent not significantly differently from how they define strength. Talents, they say, are "naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied" (p. 48). They make a big point of the idea that these are naturally recurring patterns.

Put talent and strength together and you begin to see that they are somewhat like "handedness": you are "talented" or "strong" in one hand or the other; you are either "right-handed" or "left-handed."

And while it is possible to compensate for the loss of one's dominant hand, if you have both hands, why not use the one whose competence comes naturally?

Similarly, while it is true that with enough practice almost anyone may be able to acquire a certain skill, that doesn't mean they can do it naturally, repeatedly, near-"effortlessly."

So, Buckingham and Clifton urge us, pursue your talents: "Look inside yourself, try to identify your strongest threads, reinforce them with practice and learning, and then either find or . . . carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. When you do, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful" (p. 21).

They make two additional, and pertinent comments:
  • "[Y]ou do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel. . . . [E]xcellent performers [are] rarely well rounded. On the contrary, they [are] sharp" (p. 26).


  • "[Y]ou will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying 'ignore your weaknesses.' [Successful people do] not ignore their weaknesses. Instead, they . . . [find] ways to manage around their weaknesses, thereby freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point" (p. 26).

Well. With this in mind, I began to try to figure out my strengths and talents. What are my natural propensities--my natural habits that, as Buckingham and Clifton say, "can be productively applied"? If the authors are correct--and I believe they are--these should help me become more "productive, fulfilled, and successful."

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