If I hear “use your strengths” one more time…

“Use your strengths!”

“Stop focusing on your weaknesses!”

“Just figure out where you offer the most value. It’s easy!”

Does any of this sound familiar? How about all of it?

It’s common to hear, for good reason. And, of course we want to use our strengths! We want our strengths to work for us. As humans, we need this. The feeling of success and breakthrough that comes from doing the work we’re not only best at, but also energized by.

Whether we see it or not, our strengths are how we add the most value to our organizations, clients and future innovations. When our roles are rooted in our strengths, our engagement, energy and excitement surge forward.

The problem I have with the strengths idea is that sometimes it’s just straight confusing how to actually make it work for me.

I believe in the research.

I believe in the logical approach.

I believe it's the better way.

If you’re like me, you just don't know how to really make it work in the buzz of everyday work.

Three ideas you can actually do without knowing your strengths:

1. Think of all your skills as chess pieces.

Everything we are, all the skills and mindsets we have, are not equal. Some are powerful and some are weak. Unfortunately, we tend to let all of who we are bleed together instead of considering the major differences among our traits. This “checkers mentality” — where all the pieces are of equal value — is killing our self belief and career momentum.

The problem is this: when we are in this checkers mindset, we have trouble knowing which parts of us are strengths and which are weaknesses. We push aside all strengths-based thinking and begin to narrow our focus towards getting any one skill (a checkers piece) “kinged” in hopes that will make the difference.

I believe this is a huge source of burnout. There are times we seize opportunity by going outside our strengths. Through a hard burst of work we make a difference and get a win for the organization. We become pegged as the go-to resource in this area, all the while it’s a weakness that exhausts us, requiring a large recharge time. Two years later, we hate the very thing everyone believes we do so well.

The opposite way of thinking — the “chess mentality” — helps us organize who we are and what we do best. We are a set of skills that strengthen us and weaken us. The skills that cause time to pass effortlessly and others that take all of our focus to produce an average result.

When we adopt the chess mentality to how we show up, we more clearly understand that not all tasks and projects were created equal for us. Instead of getting frustrated, we become fascinated. Instead of rushing in thinking we can take this by brute force (like checkers), we see what’s available to deploy for the situation and move forward with strategy and the nuance of the situation.

How is this actionable?

Think about your role at work and “map” out the skills you use on a daily basis. Get strategic in identifying the different pieces of your skill set. Where you excel and get breakthrough, then separate out the areas requiring 10x work to produce average results.

Remember a strategically placed pawn can be the most powerful piece on the board.

2. Realize it’s okay to be disengaged and drained by parts of your work.

We’re all human.

We aren’t perfect and although we’ll do the work to make sure we can grow and continue on in our career, the reality is 70% of the workforce is disengaged for a reason. I believe a large part of that disengagement comes from a misuse of skills.

A coworker I had from the CPA firm years ago told me she get’s a tingly feeling when the numbers match. When she completes auditing a line item and the numbers come together she feels satisfaction and fulfillment. For me, I WAS PISSED. I’m thinking, “We wasted all this time to prove nothing. We have no more actionable data than when I started this two days ago.” A tingly, energizing moment for one, can be a draining, frustrating feeling for another.

I used to get so frustrated that I didn’t love it. I spent energy trying to corral my emotions and fix what was wrong with me. Why did Jen love this but I did not?

Contrast that with the time when out with a client, we were assigned a project with less than 24 hours to prepare to present to the executive team on a labor audit. Plus suggestions! There was no manager or partner available. I came alive. I can still feel that moment in front of the conference room and remember thinking, “This is unreal.” It was stressful but so engaging and energizing. It was my calling.

Free yourself to be frustrated by certain tasks and projects. You’ll spend less energy.

Understand that certain projects will leave you feeling drained and completely disconnected from your job. It’s a practice in mindfulness: be aware of what is happening, and you’ll be much more equipped to handle it.

How can I make this actionable?

Realize not all projects and tasks were created equal. Realize you may have to shift your focus and approach to certain projects. When I have to get highly detailed for a while (not my natural go-to) I know I have to adopt a more serious attitude and put headphones in with house music on just a touch too loud to amp up my focus.

Pay attention to how you show up and don’t be frustrated - be fascinated and see what you can learn about yourself.

3. Ask...

Yea, it’s simple. But the reality is you’ve probably never done it.

Others perspectives are not always right but it is their perspective.

In the new book, Insight, Tasha Eurich found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are. So start digging. When we ask, we increase our self awareness. Which boosts our ability to gauge our perception with reality.

Ask a friend what they think excites you.

Ask a manager how you best contributed the the project.

When they felt you were most engaged?

Get a pulse for what others are seeing

The picture we have of ourselves is often a distorted one. Either we focus too much on our shortcomings or can’t quite see our unique attributes.

Don’t reject what others tell you. Use it to build your perspective of yourself. How others see you and observe you is powerful to understand. But remember, you don’t have to accept what they say carte blanche (fancy word I know). This practice is about getting insight to increase your perspective. As our perspectives round we become dangerous in our ability to better understand ourselves and where we add the most value.

How can I make this actionable?


And then ask again.

Let others call into life parts of you that need unveiling, additionally they will confirm what you believe to already be true about yourself.

Also think about what people always ask you to do. What is the favor you are always being asked for? Plan this next event? You’re probably pretty organized. Help with a quick creative project? You’re productivity and speed is key. Think critically and you’ll begin chipping away at the mystery. THEN pay attention to your energy afterwards. Are you energized or drained? That is key.

You’re an incredible human that has traits and skills and ideas and strengths and when they are in alignment, you are powerful.. if you’re out of alignment, even just a little bit, you won’t be producing the results you want. Getting dialed in on your strengths and what you do best (even if you have no clue) produces amazing results, prevents burnout and builds real, sustaining career momentum.

It could take months or even years to best utilize who you are best.

But isn’t your career and life worth it?

I think it is.


Joshua Schneider