7 Ways to Discover Your Strengths

Which of your skills are the most marketable? When does a skill become a strength? Whether you think you have too many strengths or too few, it’s always helpful to revisit what we’re good at. Here are some practical ideas to view your strengths with a fresh perspective (and to prepare for that interview question 😊).

1. What comes easy to you that other people struggle with?

Some things may come so naturally to you that they don’t even seem like special talents. But if other people can’t do the same activity, then it’s probably something that you’re “good at.”

I didn’t think that skills such as organization and prioritization were noteworthy. Prioritization seemed like such a universal and basic skill, like being able to shower yourself every day before getting dressed. That is, until I began working with someone who could not prioritize…at all.

As soon a non-essential email came in, this employee rushed to respond and got sidetracked from all other tasks that were due that day. She consistently missed deadlines, for seemingly no reason at all. I couldn’t understand. In the eyes of my employer, she was the most experienced cream of the crop. She should’ve mastered prioritization 20 years ago, right?

I didn’t see prioritization as one of my strengths until I worked directly with someone who struggled with it. Once I saw the negative outcomes that could happen when someone didn’t have that skill, my perspective about its importance changed. Something that I thought was such a basic life skill turned out to be a serious competitive advantage. Onto my resume it went.

2. What annoys you or frustrates you in other people?

Things that irk us often tell us more about ourselves than other people. If you’re already a self-aware person (which is key to avoid being hyprocritical), then you might see faults in people where you have strengths.

Think about habits, abilities, or personalities in other people that drive you nuts. Are you frustrated as to why some people can’t understand some concepts? Are you confused as to why they’re so bad at certain activities? Whatever they are, write down a list these pet peeves. They might include people who are always late, slow learners, poor communicators, etc.

Now, look at the list you just wrote. You’re probably the opposite of everything that annoys you, which is why these things bother you. Next to each item, write the opposite or antonym. For example, if you wrote “always late,” then the opposite trait would be “punctual.” This new list is likely describing strengths in yourself.

3. What are you asked or tasked to do?

Woman leading meeting with sticky notes on the wall.
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

What assignments are you getting at work? What role do you often play in group projects? By understanding the reason behind the ask, you can understand your strengths.

As people learn more about your personality and background, they’ll naturally find activities where you’re a good fit. For example, are you often asked to lead projects? Why do you think this happens? People might see you as confident, competent, and fair. While people may not explicitly tell you this, you can infer it from the type of asks that you get.

On a side note, take tasks that seem discriminatory with a grain of salt. For example, an educated and experienced woman who’s repeatedly asked to keep quiet during meetings and just take notes is not being treated fairly. This woman is much more capable than the tasks she’s asked to perform, so she wouldn’t want to interpret any type of gender discrimination as her high-level strengths.

4. What do people pay you for?

Getting paid to do something is a definite stamp of approval. It’s validation that your skill is a worthwhile tradeoff for someone else’s money.

Money takes the subjectivity out of your skill level, because you’re either getting paid for it or you’re not. In music school, we learned that it wasn’t enough to gather an audience; we needed to be so good that people were willing to pay to hear us play. Getting paid defines the cross-over between amateur and professional, and it signifies that mystical level of finally being good enough.

Getting paid is also a recognition of your achievement. It signifies that you have authority in the topic, job, or skill. People could’ve hired someone else, but they chose you. Even menial jobs like house-sitting or pet-sitting signify strengths in your personality, such as being honest, trustworthy, reliable, and caring. Receiving any type of compensation, no matter how small, reveals a lot about your strengths.

5. What do people say that you’re good at?

Do people ever suggest careers that you might be good at? Even if this advice is completely unsolicited and seems a bit irrelevant to the conversation?

Humans are great at overlooking the obvious, such as typos in our own writing. So, let’s step back for a minute. What have people flat-out told you that you’re good at? What positive things have you heard about yourself through the grapevine? These people have already given you the answers that you seek!

If someone says that you’re good at something, go ahead and take it at face value. This is your strength. Even if you only heard it from one person, it’s still a strength. You don’t need to have a compliment validated by 20 other people in order for it to be true.

6. Be honest about your weaknesses

Woman getting feedback at work.
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

If you want to clearly see what you’re good at, then you need to clearly see what you’re bad at.

As soon as criticism comes our way, it’s our natural reaction to become defensive about it. However, unless you believe that someone is intentionally lying to you or trying to put you down, seriously think about the feedback that you’re getting. For example:

  • Are you “overly sensitive?” (You might work well with children instead, who can’t yet express their needs and who need in-tune people like you). On the other hand, are you “lacking emotion?” (Customer service jobs probably aren’t for you).
  • Are you terrible at navigating workplace politics? (You might be better off running your own business). On the other hand, are you so chatty that you never get any work done at the expense of your company? (You might have a more lucrative career in sales).

Free yourself from the trap of mediocrity by first being honest with yourself. Stop rating every skill as a “3” on a scale of 1 to 5. Acknowledge activities that are stressful, boring, or unenjoyable. These activities likely aren’t your strengths, and that’s okay! Decide now if you’ll try to improve these areas, or if you’ll simply focus on areas where you naturally shine.

Your weaknesses tell you exactly where you shouldn’t be. Let them be closed doors that guide you to where you should be. Should = strength.

7. What do people hate you for?

These people aren’t trying to do you a favor, but if you look at the situation the right way, then they actually are. Haters are putting their energy into you—even if it’s negative—for a reason.

Jealously, obsession, cruelty, and passive aggressive behavior mean that you have something that the other person doesn’t. As in, they’ve given up on becoming you and have resorted to pulling you down instead. (This is especially true for females). Putting you down, imitating you, or gossiping about you are all signs that you have an envious winning streak.

Think about what makes these people so upset. What specific activities have they seen you accomplish? Which of your talents do they know about? What common goals are you currently working on? There’s a gap between you and them, and in that gap lies your strengths.

Next Steps

In the end, be true to yourself. How good will you ever be at something if your heart isn’t in it? Let your interests lead you. Your passion will help you grow almost any strength you desire, even if you aren’t good at it right now. You just need to live your life for you and not for anyone else.

If you still aren’t convinced about your strengths, think about what lead you to this article. Reading, researching, and self-improvement are all strengths. You identified 3 more strengths just by reading this article!

Now, where do you go from here?

Look high and low for things that you’re good at. Your strengths are more than your big milestones and achievements; your strengths are buried in the processes and everyday actions that led up to these moments. Think about yourself through the eyes of others, and even ask for their opinion if you’re willing to hear it.

You have awesome strengths! Stay tuned for the next article to learn how to turn these strengths into opportunities.

(Cover Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash).