Generalists are a thing of the past. What makes you valuable in your job today is scarcity.
Scarcity of skill, of personality, of work ethic, of value-add. The more you can carve out your niche and bring something unique and of value the more scarce you become and, therefore, the more valuable to the organization.
The problem is, we have been trained for so long to just fit in and take our place as cogs in the wheel of industry.
We have to unlearn the tendency to play it safe and fall in line. This requires deliberate self-reflection and clarity about strengths.
Once you come to see what makes you unique you can center your work around that uniqueness and create value for the organization above and beyond a job description.
Do the easy stuff exceptionally well and layer on what makes you best. That’s a formula that will take you far.
It wasn’t until a professional development session in 2008 that I first realized — really realized — that I had unique talents that made me different than others. In fact, all 30-ish people in the room that day had their minds blown when we recognized that we had all been so focused on being good at all things that we had neglected being great at the few things that made us unique.
More importantly, I learned how to figure out what I do best and develop it and it’s made all the difference in my career. Now I build my daily work on my talents and the results are significant:
-More energy throughout the day
-Increased satisfaction from my work
-Opportunities to do more of what I do
-Focus on what areas I can develop to become my best self
-Clarity about where I thrive and where I struggle
-Better results in my work
-Congruence and authenticity
Your goal this week should be to figure out what you do best and do more of it. This is the secret to a fulfilling and successful career. Here’s how:
1. It’s all about energy. When your energy is highest it’s because you are using innate talent. “Innate” means natural or inborn, and natural means you don’t have to exert energy because it comes easily. These innate talents are hardwired into who you are.
2. Name them. What exactly is the natural activity that’s giving you energy? Pinpoint the catalyst. Hint: It’s probably not the activity itself but rather the way you are doing the activity. For example, teaching is not a talent. It’s a manifestation of talents being utilized. The true talent may be using words to communicate ideas or tapping empathy to relate to a group or developing and utilizing powerful questions to engage an audience.
3. Develop them. Talents are innate but that also makes them raw. You can get far on talent alone, but if you add knowledge and skill to those talents they will explode into awesome magical powers of transformation. If I’m good at utilizing powerful questions to engage an audience, I could read an article on how to formulate even more powerful questions and talk to someone who also does this well to learn tips and tricks. I could also practice developing some power questions in my lesson planning since practice makes perfect.
4. Find opportunities to use the talent. When else could you put a talent to use? By analyzing other parts of your work week you can find opportunities to put the talent to use and show the world what you do very best.
By practicing these four steps — in other words, being intentional about doing what I do best — I’ve put myself in positions to do even more of what I enjoy. The mindblowing thing is that all of us have this same capacity and just as much opportunity. Talents aren’t bound by job title or description.
Don’t neglect what you do very best. Pinpoint it, develop it, and put it to use!
I present for a living. I teach and train and present to groups of 10-60 and sometimes larger. It’s how I make my living and I feel good at it.
Leading up to every presentation I’m pumped. The day before I have a flood of ideas. The day of I can’t wait. And then, without fail, with one hour before presentation time, I feel fear.
That fear quickly morphs into terror and “doom and gloom.” I begin to imagine everything that could go wrong happening all at once. The content doesn’t land, people become enraged, tables get flipped, a riot ensues…or mostly just the first one, that the content won’t land.
Once I’ve begun presenting, I feel strong. After I present, I feel satisfied. But right before I feel fear. Why is that? Why do we sometimes feel most fearful right before we do the thing that we may be very best at?
It’s the cruel paradox of strengths. Sometimes the things that we are strongest in are the things we feel most anxious doing, especially if we do them for the outside world. “What if they find me out? What if I’m not as good as I thought I was?”
The reason we feel this way is because we care about doing it well because our identity is wrapped up in that thing. If you ask me to organize a spreadsheet I don’t care much if I fail because I can punt on it and say, “Well of course it was bad; that’s not my strength.” But when it’s something that is so tightly a part of who we are we feel anxious that if what we offer the world is “average” our self-image and self-worth is threatened. If you’ve felt what I feel, here’s my advice:
1. Preparation trumps fear. If you are prepared to do whatever it is you do best you can at least remove one factor that sometimes causes fear.
2. Develop your talents. If I have a talent for motivating people through communication and I want to use that to become a great teacher I will gain confidence by adding skills to that talent — what teaching methods, skills, techniques, knowledge, and tools can I add to my talent to take it to the next level?
3. Do it anyway. You will find that what you have to offer is enough. The alternative is to bury what it is that you do naturally well and that’s a losing proposition.
The world needs people who do what they do best. We need you. Too many people work jobs that require them to live in weakness. The result is that ~80% of the job market is disengaged in their work. Imagine a world where everyone is engaged and contributing their talents to the world.
It starts with overcoming the terror and taking the leap.
By the way, the presentation today went great. At least, no tables were flipped.
People who are ready to make the jump to a more satisfying career do one thing consistently:
They ask questions. Lots of them. To everyone they can.
They have this insatiable desire to learn about other peoples’ jobs:
how they got there, what they do, and why they do it.
Like a researcher, they collect data. They gather all of this information to begin to formulate their launch plan. This info helps them sort through the clutter of 10 million potential careers and find the one that fits them.
They are seeking information to find the job that hits them in the face and screams “this is YOU.”
They also get there more quickly than other career dreamers because they are opening their minds to possibilities and expanding their paradigm of what actually exists “out there.”
If you’re asking these questions — if you’ve reached the point that you behave like an investigative journalist with your local grocer — you are in a really, really good place.
It’s also a sign that you’re likely ready to take the leap and start actually trying some of these jobs out. Worst case scenario you fall flat and try again. Best case scenario one of them fits.
As long as the job generates some kind of income to provide for the necessities of life, what do you really have to lose?
Job descriptions are written for robots. When a committee gets together to draft up a job description they likely don’t have a specific person in mind. They have a bunch of persons in mind who, when melded together, create the average person that would do well in that job.
This is problematic because it prevents you and I from pursuing jobs that are nuanced to our strengths. We see a generic job description and we’re underwhelmed. “That’s not me,” we may say.
It’s also a challenge because we have a tendency to take a generic job and melt into it. Rather than doing our job description and layering on what makes us very best we discard or ignore what makes us best and invest our energy in conforming to the position. In the short-run this earns big points. You are compliant and people like that because it means you are doing exactly what they hoped someone in that job would do — the job they defined.
In the long-run this is a losing strategy. Your whole value-add is your uniqueness. That’s what you bring! The job description is simply a foundation for you to magnify what you do very best — your strengths.
True, you have to do the basics well before you can branch out into your strength. But most people never branch out and become robotic in the execution of their jobs. Integrate what you do best into what your organization needs you to do and you’ll thrive.
So what do you do best? Go do more of it.
Much like almost anything else meaningful – exercise, eating healthy, meditating – you have to be intentional about planning self-reflection into your day.
Self-reflection is the key to career because guided reflection opens the door to self-awareness and understanding. When you know who you are you can align your career to that self-knowledge and find congruence. Congruence = happiness.
Exhaustion comes from being someone you’re not. The more you are required to step outside of your authentic self in your career the more likely you are to burn out. Don’t burn out. “Know thyself.”
There are three ways to make reflection happen:
1. Set a time. When will you reflect? Right when you wake up? When you go to bed? On your lunchbreak? While you exercise?
2. Set a place. Where is your sacred spot where you can clear your mind and really do the work of reflection? My home isn’t the place for this from 7am-8pm, but before 7am, during my commute, while working out at lunch, and after 8pm are GOLDEN.
3. Guide it. Don’t just sit there and think. You’ve got to aim the reflection. What should you reflect about? Here are three power questions to get you started:
a. What did you do this week that yielded the most energy?
b. When during the past five years have you been most congruent? Why?
c. If money were no object and you could do anything for a living, what would you do? Why that?
Lastly, reflection is easiest with someone else. Find someone who can take down some notes and ideas while you talk – a friend, spouse, partner, or coach. Reflecting through writing works for some, but others just need to freestyle while someone records. Do what works for you, but commit to doing something TODAY.
The first thing stopping you from getting where you want to go may be developing self-awareness, and that’s low-hanging fruit. Start now.
The thing that stops us from starting new things is that we can’t see the end from the beginning. Why start if I’m not sure where it will lead me? What if where it leads me is not where I want to go? I think we give too much control to fate, as if we won’t have the ability to get back on the path when things don’t end up how we thought they would. The truth is, most of the time we end up exactly where we should be.
I’ve been on a Seth Godin binge lately and I came across a podcast where he talked about being “project-minded.” Instead of looking at our career from start to finish and trying to divine where we will end up at 52, we should see our pathway as a string of projects that we contribute value to indefinitely. This carries with it more innovation and takes away the stress of overthinking where we’ll end up.
In other words, pick a project that you want do to add value to the world, invest yourself in it, and see where you end up. If it fails, cast it aside and try something new. If it lands, follow the energy. If it works but you don’t like it, drop it and move on. Try, fail, and try again. You can’t go wrong seeking to provide benefit to the world. String together enough successes and in hindsight you will have a career. Genius.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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