At age seventeen I flew out to Alberta, Canada to visit my brother who was teaching in a small parochial school on the prairie. Escaping the classroom, Tim went skiing with me in the Rockies and introduced me to his hockey-playing friends. I dodged moguls at Lake Louise, floated through powder at Castle Mountain, and played hockey against a team consisting mostly of RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers. It was an unforgettable week!
Two years later I headed west again. I was destined for more phenomenal skiing and fast hockey plus some school teaching on the side. I thought I had my gifts figured out—something to do with sports and the great outdoors. But during that first year I played very few games and hardly hit the slopes. My first year in the classroom turned into a second and a third. I was discovering my areas of greatest strength by trying something new. In fact, teaching and speaking became a passion. Had you interviewed me prior to moving west, however, you would have heard something entirely different. I would have told you that concrete construction or something connected with agriculture was on my horizon.
Last week I talked about maximizing your gift. But what if you haven’t discovered it? What if you don’t know what your strengths are and are only painfully aware of your weaknesses? Can you in fact discover your gifts and begin moving toward your strengths zone? Where does the journey begin?
Author Marcus Buckingham has produced some great resources on discovering one’s strengths. I’ve used his Trombone Player Wanted video series to help others discover their gifts and start putting them to work. One of my hottest selling resources at leadership seminars and youth conferences has been his book, The Truth About You.
Buckingham believes that many people have bought into three myths—two which are: (1) As you grow your personality changes, and (2) You grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. But the truth is that, (1) As you grow, you become more of who you already are, and (2) You grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.
Consider your daughter coming home from school with an A in English Literature and an F in Calculus. What do you typically focus on? Do you help her conquer her Calculus or stoke her passion for English Literature? Most likely you focus on areas of greatest weakness and thus work on the Calculus. Now while it’s true that you ought to assist her in attaining a passing grade, far more time should be invested in your daughter’s love of English Literature. Her greatest potential lies in this sphere; she may in fact become a great poet, author, or journalist.
So how do we discover our strengths? Buckingham suggests several things to get us started. First, can you think of any activities that you excel at? Second, is there any work activity you’re involved in that recently went from good to great? Third, when your team is in a crunch and needs a great performance, what is the “play” that everyone knows only you can run? Or, what do others think you’re really good at doing? Fourth, are there any activities that make you feel strong, powerful, and fulfilled? Fifth, can you think of any activities that you especially look forward to; meaningful activities that someone might hire you for? And last of all, as with many hobbies, are there work activities you enjoy so much that you almost forget time when doing them?
If most of your answers were negative it may be time for you to try something new. Experiment. Risk. Be bold and adventuresome. Perhaps God has something big out there waiting for you to discover that will bring Him the greatest glory and you the most joy.
For the present, here’s a good place to start. Track your activities for a week. Whenever you do something that intrigues you, holds your interest, or perhaps even makes you feel magnificent, write it down and ask yourself some questions. Why did I enjoy it? Can I deliberately do this more often? Can I take this activity from its current level of performance to something much higher? In other words, are there some skills I need to develop in order to sharpen this strength? And lastly, is there someone I need to talk to about allowing me to work more in my area of greatest strength?