Discover Your Strengths and Supercharge Your Business

image of flowers in sunshine

Have you ever been kept awake until 2 in the morning having an imaginary conversation with one of your blog readers who thinks you’re great and left a long comment telling you so?

Or spent hours obsessively trying to figure out how to do better work, spurred by a fan letter from a customer about the terrific job you did?

Or is it maybe more likely that your late-night solo conversations and obsessive problem-solving go to the trolls, the complainers, and the folks who just plain can’t stand you?

Don’t worry. If you give an undue amount of attention to negative comments and feedback, to the extent of almost ignoring the good stuff altogether, it doesn’t mean you’re neurotic. It means you’re exactly like the rest of us.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their marvelous book Switch make this observation:

Imagine a world in which you experienced a rush of gratitude every single time you flipped a light switch and the room lit up. Imagine a world in which after a husband forgot his wife’s birthday, she gave him a big kiss and said, “For thirteen of the last fourteen years you remembered my birthday! That’s wonderful!”

This is not our world.

But in times of change, it needs to be.

Play to your strengths

I’ve long been fascinated by the advice to those who tell us to focus on our strengths, not our weaknesses, in order to create breakthrough success.

It’s so appealing. You mean I don’t have to learn to cold call, balance my checkbook, or know how my RSS feed works? Sign me up.

But it seems like it might be contradicted by another idea that’s gained a lot of attention in recent years: there’s not really any such thing as talent. Researchers like Carol Dweck and brilliant nonfiction writers like Malcolm Gladwell tell us that what we call “talent” is really the result of a heck of a lot of hard work.

What are strengths, anyway?

Until recently, I never realized this was a trick question. I thought that your strengths were things you were good at, and your weaknesses were things you sucked at.

But Marcus Buckingham, who’s made a career out of writing about strengths, put it this way:

A strength is “an activity that makes you feel strong.” It is an activity where the doing of it invigorates you. Before you do it, you find yourself instinctively looking forward to it. While you are doing it you don’t struggle to concentrate, but instead you become so immersed that time speeds up and you lose yourself in the present moment. And after you are finished doing it, you feel authentic, connected to the best parts of who you really are.

Your strengths are the activities that give you the juice to put your 10,000 hours in. They’re the work you love enough to become the best in the world at.

I’ll give you an example

I recently heard Yo-Yo Ma giving an interview about how he got started as a cellist. As it happens, Yo-Yo’s parents are both musicians, and had high musical expectations for their little son. So when Yo-Yo was three, they gave the boy a violin.

And Yo-Yo hated it. Wouldn’t practice. Wouldn’t focus. Didn’t have any zest for it. His frustrated parents finally gave up in disgust.

And then little Yo-Yo saw and heard something amazing, something that surprised and delighted him. Something that he knew was exactly what he wanted to play. It was a double bass — the violin’s really, really big brother. Now that was more like it.

He and his parents split the size difference, and Ma began to study first the viola and then settled (at four years old) on the cello. By seven he was a recognized prodigy, performing for Eisenhower and JFK, and by eight he played on national television, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

To have become so skilled between the ages of four and seven, he must have put in untold hours of practice. But they were hours spent on something he adored.

One thing that interests me about Ma is that he isn’t just a brilliant cellist. He isn’t just world-famous and in-demand and a name brand.

He also seems to be a remarkably happy and kind human being. He loves working with children. He’s been married a long time to the same person. He radiates kindness and a certain goofy charm. He’s got a great sense of humor, referring to himself at times as an “itinerant musician.” And he’s known for boundless energy.

If I’m going to be a nationally-famous virtuoso, that’s the kind I want to be.

Build your business like Yo-Yo

When you see someone busting her tail to build a business, writing tons of great content, reaching out to potential customers, speaking and podcasting and doing everything we’re supposed to do to build a terrific content-based marketing program, it’s easy to ask:

How does anyone find the time to do all that?

The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one.

When you focus on your strengths, you do the work that gives you energy. You do the work that drives you, that makes you giggle, that keeps you up late because you’re just having too much fun to stop.

When you’re starting out, you do everything. You build the blog site and write all the content and do the bookkeeping and answer the support emails. Some of those things build you up and some wear you down.

Pay attention to which is which.

As soon as you can (it could be today), find partners who are energized by the tasks that exhaust and deplete you. If you can’t find the right partner, outsource the aspects of your business that make you want to crawl back into bed.

And put your time and attention on what the Heath brothers call the “bright spots” — on what’s really working today. Put your time on the work that gives you juice.

  • Do more of what’s working well.
  • Do more of what energizes and strengthens you.
  • Do more of what your readers and customers adore.
  • Do more of what you can do better than anyone on earth.

I know it sounds too simple to be real. But it’s how every genuinely great business — of any size — is built.

Editor’s Note: This Copyblogger Classic post was originally published in September, 2010.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. There is “magic” that happens when we do what makes us happy. Passion is the ultimate “strength’. If you are passionate about what you do, you can TOTALLY smoke the competition.

    Great post.

    Mark
    masonworld.com

  2. Hey Sonia,

    I love how you explained what focusing on your strength means. That is why successful business owners are always saying when you focus on your strength, the weakness will not show. Now, this makes so much sense.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  3. Love the idea of energy management vs. time management. It’s so true and when you’re doing something you enjoy, time just seems to fly by.

    • Susanne,

      Yes, I know, isn’t that a great feeling to know that you don’t have to “punch in” at a certain time. I find that when time is flying by, I never want it to stop. :)

    • I struggle with time management a lot – but making the distinction between time management and energy management is a great one for me. When it comes to tasks I don’t enjoy it takes a lot more of my energy to overcome inertia and get to it. Where the tasks I do enjoy I leap into and seem to have plenty of time for.
      This is an ah-ha! for me. Thanks!

  4. Sonia!
    Have you been reading my mail? I have finally harness the concept that you describe here and it’s turned me into a workaholic of the best kind.

    I’m completely energized by what I am trying to accomplish through my business. It’s taken me a while to get here though because it’s taken me awhile to figure out my strengths – that which strengthens me – not that which I’m good at.

    I was a good lawyer, I’ve strengths suited for lawyering, but it was killing me. It wasn’t until I started feeding those things that I was both good at, and inspired/energized by that I was able to tap into my true strengths.

    I’d like to encourage people to really embrace the approach presented here, and to really assess those things that make you “tick.” You may have to keep testing and trying things, but if you’re persistent, you’ll be all the better for it!

    • That’s so cool, Marlee!

      It does (often) take time. Most of us don’t figure it out at four like Yo-Yo did. Like you say, you’ve got to keep testing and trying.

    • Wow, Marlee! I checked out your blog after reading your comment, and it looks really good! I love your writing style, and I can definitely tell that you’re passionate about what you do.

      I’m glad you’ve discovered what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’m still analyzing mine, but I have a few strengths that come to mind. I’m hoping that, eventually, I can also become a workaholic that loves what she does!

      Your comment is really motivating.

      Christina

      • Thank you Christina!

        It’s responses like yours that affirm that I’m doing the right thing, and I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to make mention.

        I’m in the process of solidifying “a process” to help awesome women just like yourself get over that hump…or simply get started, and I would love to help you with where you’re at if you could use an objective analysis.

        Sometimes it’s just one or two things that we need to identify to get into our strength zone – to figure out what makes us tick – but sometimes we are too close to ourselves to see it ourselves.

        You know what I mean? :)

        • Definitely. It’s like that with writing critiques as well. When you write, you have a good idea about how the sentences should flow. So, when you re-read what you write, sometimes you might miss minor errors in the piece. Whereas, if someone else critiques your work, that person is more likely to find the errors that you missed.

          I’d love to network with you Marlee. I sent you an email.

  5. Even the stuff I like can become draining and frustrating as I try to get better at it. For instance, I love writing but I hate the slog of editing over and over to make it sing.

    I wonder, how do I tell the difference between the stuff that I need to push through and become better at, and the stuff I’m weak at and need to hand off.

    Or, am I missing the point?

    • For me, writing is one that gives me energy up to a point, but I certainly can’t do it all day. I’d see if you can work in bursts and see if the editing smooths out for you. But if a half-hour editing session still makes you tired and grumpy, then I’d say that writing is a strength and rewriting is a weakness.

      Do you let your writing sit a day before the rewrite? Sometimes that lets your unconscious do the hard part and makes it an easier go.

  6. Sonia, I think your passion is writing passionate blog posts. Nobody else quite captures “the feeling” your posts transmit.

    I knew since 5th grade the written word was my passion. I ignored it, though, for roughly 20 years, with basketball, football, boxing and partying (among other things) being more important. But the whisper never leaves, so I decided to write, proof, and edit to please it.

    Now, it’s happy, and so am I.

    • I actually think you’re right — when I’m writing on all cylinders, I feel very energized, and the writing that most often does that (for me) is writing about doing your best work & living your best life.

  7. This really is a great way of looking at it. You might be good at something, but if it saps your energy, it’s a lost cause.

    I much prefer to do things that I enjoy, whether or not I’m great at it because I believe that in time, I can become great.

  8. This philosophy is embraced and expanded on in the book “Fast Track Photographer” by Dane Sanders. Do what you love most, and farm out every other thing you can…

  9. Kind of like do what you love and love what you do. Great post and great reminder!

  10. Thanks for the post! This will certainly help me to help others find their strengths. I often ask clients to tell me what they loved doing as a kid – before all of the “good advice” of parents, teachers and career advisors took over.

    October is “Small Business Month” – in our community at least – and this post is an excellent foundation for people thinking about starting or streamlining their businesses.

    Thanks again.

  11. I teach the same principle in my stress management seminars. And yes, I agree that this principle can also be applied in writing.

    Thank you for sharing your strengths with us.

  12. Sonia –

    I love opening up my browser and reading your posts! What a great way to start the day.

    I think that a lot of people inherently know their strengths, but they feel a lack of confidence in building it up – using it to their advantage. The thing to remember is that your strengths are your own and if millions of people can succeed each day (and they do) then you can be one of them.

    My favorite quote from a trusted leader: You are what you think you are. Take your strengths, think about what you want to be. And that’s what you become :-)

  13. Trying to find our strengths is often confusing. Many people make the mistake of thinking that just because they can do something well, it is a strength. It usually takes longer to figure out that if what you do well is something that you hate to do, it weakens you. This can be very confusing because most people look at it in another way. They will be happy to explain to you that if you do something well; you should make a career out of it. Could this be why so many successful people hate their jobs?
    I recently wrote a post about time=money. When we are spending time doing something that we hate, but doing it well, it takes more of our time. We find reasons not to do it because we hate it. We could use our time more wisely by doing the things that make us feel strong. We will accomplish more and feel better about ourselves.

  14. So true! I hadn’t looked at strengths that way before.

    When I first came online with the idea to start a business six months ago I was bustin my nugget trying to MAKE my idea go. But the harder I worked the crazier and more depressed I got. You name it, it went wrong. And I spent an inordinate amount of time taking every teleclass I could to find out how to MAKE it work. But the truth came when someone asked someone else if she wanted to have a business. She answered yes but I answered no and that shook me.

    But from then on, finally realizing what I didn’t want, I discovered what I did want and what I LOVE doing. I could stay up all night, and have, doing it. It energizes me. I’m digging it, but feel like a boat jumper because now a lot of my on-line friends are into what I was trying to do before but don’t have any interest in what I’m doing now. It’s weird starting over and getting over the feeling of having just done an EPIC FAIL. I’m doing it anyways…but I still sometimes feel like a shmuck.

    So yeah, doing what we love feeds us. Rock on!

    • Wulfie,
      I have had similar situations-found 2 direct sales biz that I thought were great and got a few people involved with me and it just fizzled. I didn’t have the passion I thought I did. I was riding the coat tails and drinking the hopium that was touted on stage at events.
      It is embarrassing to face my friends-we didn’t lose any great amount of money but I do feel that I have dented my reputation a bit.
      But I am taking the high road and being honest with myself and my friends. Hey, I’m human. I’m doing my homework better this time and focusing on ME and what MY desires are.
      I still have relatives that tell me, “When are you gong to get a ‘real’ job?” They don’t get it and they don’t get me. I decided that I will listen to and model successful people, not the ones that tell me how to do it, since it’s not really working for them. Why would I listen to them if they themselves are not successful?
      Anyway, thanks for sharing…
      Wendy

    • Wulfie,

      I don’t see what you went through as an EPIC FAIL; I see it as EPIC GROWTH, as a lesson learned! If we don’t try new things then we won’t know if that thing could be one of our new strength(s). Sometimes we just need to go through things, in order to grow and really see where we should be and what we should be doing.

      It took alot of courage for you to walk away and say I don’t want to do this. Kudos to you, because some things just don’t work for us or they don’t “fit”, no matter how hard we try.

      I’m going through something similar now. I have been trying to force myself into a bad “fit” even when it was making me crazy, I have finally stopped the insanity, but I needed to go through it and learn that. So, I am now going back to one of my strengths. I write. That’s what I do – I am a writer.

      Good luck to you, and I hope that your passion takes you to where you are meant to be.

  15. “The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one.”

    I agree.

    Engergy increases like wind that will put you in the zone and then creativity flows.

  16. Bravo!
    Peter Drucker sums it all up when he said; “I never met anyone who ever got anything great done outside their areas of strength”

  17. I really like this post. A lot of people talk about how important it is to work on your weaknesses. Of course, there is some truth to this. But it’s a lot more important to do things that you are interested in and that energize you. If languages or math bore you to death, don’t become a linguist or a mathematician. Specifically, find what energizes you. This is the best point from this post. You can spend the rest of your life doing work that kills you 8 hours a day until you can leave it and go home. Or you can do work that energizes you and keeps you motivated. The second option is more appealing to me. I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs put a lot more time into their business, but they aren’t as worn down as people who work a 9 to 5 for someone else. Working for yourself energizes you. You have something to work for. What you are doing benefits yourself. Eventually you figure out what your biggest strengths are and let other people take care of the things you aren’t so good at. That’s the best way to work. Find something you love and pour yourself into it. Not waste your time thinking that your biggest strength is your biggest weakness. It’s not.

    Sonia, thanks again for a great post!

  18. Encouragement is the most powerful tool in a leader’s kit. It’s what fuels commitment, innovation and teamwork.

  19. Haven’t looked at it in that way before. Time mgmt vs. Energy mgmt. I guess that is why I do get so much done. I just like doing. I’ve been accused of being an over-achiever, but I don’t look at myself that way. It isn’t a race to achieve or anything like that. When I’m enjoying what I’m doing I’m “energized” by it and I really enjoy it. Even when it’s stuff I may not want to do…sometimes even those things can be enjoyable!

    Switch is a great book and so are the Buckingham books.

  20. What an enjoyable post. I think you touched on all the things I have been thinking (and yes worrying) about. I never heard Yo-Yo’s story. What if his parents had insisted he stay with the violin? Geez.

    Today I found a blogging buddy and started on a 30 day challenge to blog everyday and build a stronger community on my blog. Guess that will show me how much of a passion I really have.

    You are right, it is not about just wishing, it is all about the doing.

  21. Energy management-what a great phrase. Society perceives being ‘busy’ as being productive. Well, we all know that the hamster in the wheel is busy-but not very productive.

    The focus on energy is so very important. I am revisiting my daily routines because things are changing dramatically with my husband going on the road 5 days a week for his new consulting job.

    I want to and need to be focused and productive so that we can enjoy our now limited time together each week.

    Thanks for such an inspiring post!

  22. This post and Marcus’ definition was so timely! I was up late last night willing myself to go back to sleep because I knew I needed to do so. But what I really wanted to do was to get back in and work on some really great ideas I have for my business.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  23. Very powerful post.

    I especially like this quote you included in there: “Imagine a world in which you experienced a rush of gratitude every single time you flipped a light switch and the room lit up. Imagine a world in which after a husband forgot his wife’s birthday, she gave him a big kiss and said, ‘For thirteen of the last fourteen years you remembered my birthday! That’s wonderful!'”

    I also find your definition of “strengths” to be interesting. Like you, I had thought that a person’s strengths were just things the person was good at. I’m generally very creative, so I’m pretty good with sketching and writing. I’m alright in graphic design as well, though I’m still learning. Based on the things I’m good at, I had thought my strengths were sketching and writing. However, sometimes sketching can prove tiring to me, especially if the sketch requires color. On the other hand, I love writing and graphic design. I also love reading. After doing all three of these things, I can definitely say that I feel stronger as a result.

    So, while I’m good at sketching, sketching doesn’t have to be a strength. In reality, my strengths are writing, reading and graphic design, even though I don’t have much experience with graphic design yet. I enjoy these activities, and they’re fulfilling when I do them. That’s enough for me.

    Inspiring read!

    Christina

    • That, for me, is the neat part — when you find a strength that you haven’t mastered yet. It means you’ve got many enjoyable hours ahead getting to mastery. :)

      • Thanks, Sonia! I agree entirely. Graphic design is really something totally different from what I’m doing on a regular basis, so it tends to eat up a lot of time as I toy with it and learn the ropes. That’s alright for me, though. It just leaves little time to do other things.

  24. A great way to build the business you love.

    I think it’s so strange how we all start out on our own because we have something we love doing and could see ourselves building for years and years, but then somehow get lost in all the madness of business.

    It’s important to take a step back from time to time and remember what got you excited in the beginning.

  25. “Energy management problem” – This is perfect and hits the nail on the head.

    I’m of the opinion that ‘time’ as a work measurement is completely off – energy and results are the real commerce of progress.

    “Leverage core competencies and outsource the rest” is my motto – thanks for a great read Sonia :-)

  26. Well said.

    Exceptional success requires a minimum threshold of innate ability and then a obsessive amount of work. If you find the right work, the obsession should come naturally. If you don’t do what you obsess about, then you’re not doing the right thing…yet. Discover your obsession, obsess, thrive, retire, die.

    http://theGoodBadger.com

  27. G’Day Sonia,

    I’ve been fortunate to have had a couple of great mentors in my time. One used to say, “Don’t talk about strengths and weaknesses. Talk about strengths and limitations. The trick is to build on you strengths and limit the effect of your limitations.”

    When I started in business yonks ago, another–he was a millionaire–said, “Don’t go into business to make money. Anyone can do that. Decide on something you’d really like to be able to do, and use the business as a vehicle to enable you to do it.”

    Another drew my attention to that great old business axiom: “Do only those things to which you bring a unique perspective. Buy everything else around the corner.”

    It was the great Robert Mager who said, “If your job isn’t fun, change your job.” And he didn’t mean find a new position.

    So, may I add, make sure you have fun.

    Thanks for a most stimulating post.

    Regards

    Leon

  28. Bravo!!!! >>> “find partners who are energized by the tasks that exhaust and deplete you. If you can’t find the right partner, outsource the aspects of your business that make you want to crawl back into bed.” Bravo!!!!

  29. Sonia, this is one of your Best Evers! I just reinvented my business — new website and blog — which included learning wordpress.org and Headway. I don’t even take lunch breaks I’m having such a good time. Now to build that blog readership . . . .

    BTW, is your hair still pink? Can’t tell from your little thumbnail.

  30. I really like this quote:
    “The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one. ”

    For years I’ve been held hostage by the time management gurus to only discover (in the last few months) that when I manage my passion the rest follows. For a moment there I thought it was my own little secret…now it seems that I’m not alone :)

    Sonia, is it possible that your post keep getting better? It seems like long vacations in France suit you!

    • Ha! Make sure we point that last sentence out to my Copyblogger Media partners. :D

      To answer that question in a non-snarky way, taking regular renewal breaks definitely helps my writing. :)

  31. Thanks Sonia for a thought-provoking, action-provoking article. Reminds me that I’m so overwhelmed by running a business with almost no outside help, I haven’t even made time to keep up with Remarkable Marketing.

    I MUST delegate office management and book-keeping, etc. to someone more efficient and better qualified than me. Allowing me to spend more time on the things that energize me: researching, writing, photography, giving public audio-visual presentations, improving and monetizing my website.

    • I hear you, that has been really, really hard for me. I finally had to decide to spend the first 30 minutes of each work day just working on delegation. Which I still don’t always do, but even the kinda-sorta has helped quite a bit.

      It’s hard to let go of that stuff, and hard to find the time/energy to do the work of handing it over. I will tell you, though, that is is worth it. :)

  32. Oh! . . . and catching up with Remarkable Marketing!

  33. The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one.

    When you focus on your strengths, you do the work that gives you energy. You do the work that drives you, that makes you giggle, that keeps you up late because you’re just having too much fun to stop.

    When you’re starting out, you do everything. You build the blog site and write all the content and do the bookkeeping and answer the support emails. Some of those things build you up and some wear you down.

    This really resonated with me. I think you’re absolutely right. It’s one of the challenges of running any small business. The more you can focus the easier it is. Unfortunately it’s very easy to get distracted in the online world…

  34. Thanks for the post. This is right in line with my thoughts over the last few days so naturally it provoked me to comment.

    Do what you love and love what you do!

  35. Sonia, Great insight on energy versus time management! Well written and thought provoking article. I’m a believer.
    Faith Ralston, Play to Your Strength Consulting

  36. I just love the idea of partnering with someone who enjoys doing the things that I find annoying or don’t enjoy doing! I’m keeping my eye out for that person now…..

    And kudos to you for delegating those things that are such a drain on your time! I’m proud of you :)

  37. Sonia,

    I really like your suggestion to “Do more of what your readers and customers adore.”

    I think when we’re trying to grow, if we focus on getting better at and doing more of what we’re doing right, we can really hit the ball out of the park.

    I agree that delegating is extremely hard. A lot of times it comes down to the fact that we have a hard time trusting others to do what we want done with integrity. It’s a rough step to overcome, but when we entrust others, it can free up more of our time so that we can focus on what we’re good at.

    Thank you for this, Sonia! This made my day.

  38. Looks like it’s time for me to take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and start listing the energy adding and energy draining activities.

    It makes a lot of sense to filter to-do items this way. Thanks for connecting the dots, Sonia!

  39. Have you been peeping on my computer? I just found that article by Buckingham last Friday on Oprah. How amazing here you are writing about this. Thanks for writing about this and explaining it more. You’ve given me some new insights.

    • Now I’m channeling Oprah! Who knew? That’s an awesome coincidence — I found Marcus Buckingham because the Heath brothers pointed to his work in Switch so I figured I’d check it out.

  40. Great message, Sonia.

    It was good for me to hear it again today – manage energy and focus on the activities that give me energy. When I lose track of time, I know I’m on the right path.

    I agree with Jered too – sometimes its hard to delegate, especially on things that I’m actually good at. It’s a lot easier when I am measuring the task by whether I get juiced up about it; no matter how good I am at it, if it isn’t energizing, it’s a candidate for outsourcing (or partnering!).

    Thanks!

  41. I wonder what the world would be like if schools and colleges, instead of stuffing heads with facts, spent time helping each child find out where their strengths lay, and then helped them maximize them.

    Many of the writers I’ve worked with came to it late because they didn’t recognize that it was a strength, and missed years of happy writing as a result.

  42. If it irks you, shirk it! Plain and simple. I believe in doing what you love. I hate doing sales and don’t know if I’ll be able to blog/write for a living without doing any sales…

  43. That really redefines “strengths”. I am in the process of finding a partner to take over some of the tedious tasks that seem to consume my time so I can focus on what gets me up in the morning. This article is very reassuring. Thanks,

    Joe

  44. Life is a journey, and during that journey we have to find the right exit that leads us to discovering what our strengths are. For some it takes considerably longer than others to find what their strengths are.

    Thanks Sonia for this insightful post! Love it!

  45. Sonia,

    When a CB post hits my InBox, I can scan the first few paragraphs and spot your style immediately. I enjoy the integration of wise stuff with humor.

    I’ve been an entrepreneur for 40 years and you hit this one out of the park. You really “bring it” with every column. Damn the trolls, full speed ahead!

    Steve Benedict

  46. Great post and I love the story about Yo-Yo Ma. I recently found myself doing the same thing. Essentially dropping the things that I was expected to do – thoroughly liberating! and now am paying attention to the things that I am strong at.
    Great post Sonia

  47. Thanks so much for reminding me of this truth, Sonia!

    I came across StregthFinders 2.0 by Tim Roth a while ago and really enjoyed the concepts he presented about different kinds of strengths and a sound method of getting closer to yours. As an added bonus, you would also be able to help others find theirs! What a nice treat that would be, to help someone find their strengths!

    I am also reminded of a deeper conept at work here. Nelson Mandella said in a speech ( I will paraphrase), “…it is not the dark that scares us most, it is our light, our potential…”.

    I don’t want came first: our cultures desire to toil away at our weaknesses, or our fear of experiencing our full potential, but they are very prevelant in corporate, professional america today. Up until recently, I was in the Marine Corps. Talk about an organization focused on working on your weaknesses. As I progressed through the ranks, I saw the need to develop some new and necessary skills, but I also more on more saw the need to embrace my strengths and task others according to their strengths. This was a a very polarizing strategy. Those that worked for me loved the freedom and excitement that came with being absorbed in tasks that catered to their stregnths. On the other hand though, peers and supierors didn’t necessarily agree with the strategy.

    Ultimately… I left to embrace my potential….on my own terms.

    Thanks for the great post. These are excellent reminders and benchmarks to be reminded of along our individual journies.

  48. Hi Sonia,

    I love the way you explained “strengths.” And thank you for your insights; always gets me thinking :)

    Erika

  49. Hi Sonia, this is my first time here but it won’t be my last..it was so refreshing to hear the truth, after spending so much money fishing through the many lies.of some of the so called gurus out there. Thanks again. Don

  50. Hi Sonia,
    I LOVE your writing voice. Your posts always enable me to take a fresh look at myself and my business and we both benefit! :-)

    Thanks for this inspiring post!

  51. Perfect – just what I needed!

  52. I really enjoyed this post. Even as a qualified coach I have never really thought of looking at strengths in this way and I know this is going to help me and clients in my professional life. Thank you. I shall be using this example over and over again.

    • I’d heard “focus on your strengths” a number of times, but until I read that quote by Buckingham I wasn’t completely at ease with it. It was a great aha moment for me!

      • Sadly, I sometimes have to focus on my weaknesses, especially when it’s my turn to take out the garbage or when the Australian Taxation Office is breathing down my neck.

        Does anyone have a cure for that?

  53. Sonia,

    So well-stated and well-timed. It amazes me sometimes how often we need reminding of such an obvious and simple concept (obvious and simple once you know about it.) And it takes away the guilt over time spent of the activites you love!

    Thanks for simplifying the categorization of activities you keep and those you should delegate. I am at the beginning (managing all tasks), but now have a simple way of focusing my goals and future activities.

  54. I spent years running a small photography business with a mediocre revenue stream. Colleagues kept telling me to shoot weddings to make more money, and I hated the idea of wasting a Saturday and dealing with brides.

    Once I started shooting weddings, I discovered that the skills required matched my strengths. Brides want my photojouranalisitc style and the most creative work I can perform. They leave me alone, and I have all day to create for them. It’s a great match. I look forward to it all week.

    I also used to think that teaching wasn’t for me, until I was invited to participate in seminars and write a blog about what I’ve learned in my photography career. It’s very rewarding.

  55. Thank you Sonia. A truly inspirational post.

    It’s so true. From an early age, we’re taught we have to be great at everything. Even if you excel at all other subjects at school, but suck at maths say, you might be made to feel a failure.

    The joy of adult life is that we have the freedom to find the stuff we love doing and channel it into a successful career or lifestyle. If only we could learn this lesson earlier.

    • Agreed Alex. And, some of us take longer to get to that place than others. I think I am entering that zone, but it sure takes a lot of work to make it there.

      Darin L. Hammond

  56. Great article. Good enough to be re-read regularly until it takes.

    Cheers everyone!

    JB

  57. Stephanie, this is great. I agree with it all. When I am doing something I enjoy, time is not an issue; when I am doing something I do not enjoy, I usually take a nap.

    Loved this blog.

    Hugh

  58. Great reminder. It’s called inspired action. If you can feel the energy flowing, you’re in your zone. If not, you’re wearing your square peg suit and trying to get into the round hole club. It never feels good and doesn’t accomplish much.

  59. Sonia,
    I loved this post. I used Buckingham’s book, Discover Your Strengths, as my main framework in my last job in fundraising for a national educational nonprofit, both for my own work and to manage my team. In an environment where we had to grow revenue 30% annually, and thus stress was often high, it was so energizing for us to learn about each other’s strengths, and my team was definitely more motivated reflecting on what they were good at vs. what they had to improve. I also aimed to continuously adjust my team’s jobs, or how they did them, when needed, so that they played to my team members’ strengths, and this definitely yielded more team happiness and better business results.

    Another way to figure out your strengths is to ask yourself the question, “When you find yourself in times of stress or crisis, what strengths (e.g., organizing, rallying others to help, creative problem solving) do you automatically rely on to manage through?” Often the answer is a good clue as to what your inherent strengths are.

    I’m now adhering to this idea in my personal life; I left my job to take a year off and reflect on what I am best at overall, and how I can transform my life to align with that and what makes me happiest. One thing I’ve just started is writing a blog about good food and locavore living! http://togetherinfood.wordpress.com/

    Thanks for writing this!

    • @Stephanie, well said. But ‘locavore’? Ah! yes, of course. An omnivore eats everything, a carnivore eats meat and a locavore eats local. Right?

      Like Prof. Michael M’Gonigle said, we must revitalize “place against space, the 100-mile economy over the 1,000-mile, small markets over big, the community over the corporation, democracy over statism.”

  60. Hi Simone,

    This is spot on – as I have found to my cost over the past few years.

    What you write reminds me of something I read by Maxwell Maltz in his Psycho- Cybernertics book.

    When you start a new venture or task you are Subconsciously Incompetent – you haven’t a clue. Then suddenly your realise you know nothing – you are Consciously Incompetent.

    As your learning develops you mature and become Consciously Competent and then one day, all your strengths come together and you are magically Subconsciously Competent.

    It’s a ladder of ascendancy…

    This is the hallowed state we all want to achieve. When the things others do look effortless, it is because they have gone through these four stages.

    Isn’t life simple.

    Joe

  61. Sonia:

    This is a fabulous post, as always.

    You rock!

  62. Sonia, what an inspiring read!

    Thanks for this great post that has made it clearer to me; love what you do, do what you love (get partners for what depletes you), give your best and a lot of it (content, advice, info etc) – all the while have fun doing it.

    With this in place your business or venture, whatever it is, will grow.

    Great piece – thanks again.

  63. I too always was taught to work on your strengths (master them). Then build on them. One of the hardest things I faced was letting go of all the things I want to learn and work on one or two good things. There is just so many cool things to learn.

  64. Sonia you are so spot on. I’ve read Marcus Buckingham and others on this and it just makes so much sense. I pursued a career for years which taught me a lot but I always had to make myself do it.

    Ten years ago I came a point where I couldn’t do it any more.

    I started writing, retrained and now I run a writing business. I love it and just wish I’d done it first time around.

    My advice – do something you love or you’ll find it hard to stick at it. You might stick at it but you’ll lose your drive and energy eventually.

    Follow your passion – don’t wait till it’s too late!

    I’ve never been happier than doing what I love every day.
    Cheers Linda

  65. 10000% agree. Without love and energy to our work, nothing can improve our efficiency.

  66. Malcolm Gladwell said it best: if you want to master your skill, have to spend 10,000 hours doing it. Great writers, athletes, scientists emerge after spending at least three hours a day for a decade working at their chosen field. It comes down to work ethic: the difference between a talented person who works hard versus someone who doesn’t is the difference between a Yo-Yo Ma and just a plain old yo-yo.

    Daniel Bartel
    CopyStratic

    • Sure, although Gladwell’s book also pointed to the reality that getting to those 10,000 hours wasn’t just a matter of work ethic. Circumstance, support, and other factors are key to allowing us to get those 10,000 hours in in the first place. Yo-Yo’s not a master just because he loved the cello, he’s a master because he loved it enough to put the hours in, and to make them quality hours. And, to Gladwell’s point, because he was fortunate enough to be born into a family that made music a priority and that had the resources to that. Yo-Yo Ma’s father has a saying, “It takes three generations to make a musician.”

  67. I think that this post makes perfect sense, about focusing on the things that you want to spend time doing as then you’ll have more energy for them. It does sound simple but I completely agree, although sometimes it’s a bit tricky with a new business. Sometimes something that you want to do and really want to do ends up being something that people don’t want to pay for/buy and then you end up out of business. It’s a tricky balancing act to make sure that you keep that same joy while not running at a loss longer than necessary.

  68. Great Post, Sonia. Fascinating discussion. I’ve lost my addition twice, so I guess I’ll just accept the fact I’m not strong in Windows 7, and leave it at thanks all.

    For the blogger above who quit. Good for you. Shows good sense.

  69. “When you focus on your strengths, you do the work that gives you energy. You do the work that drives you, that makes you giggle, that keeps you up late because you’re just having too much fun to stop.”

    So true!

  70. Sonia gets it. I feel so alive, inspired and energized after reading this post wow.

    This is really a timeless article and the best i’ve read on this site!

  71. I was having a bad day until I read this blog. It has jacked me up and sent me back into the game. Thanks.

  72. Nice message Sonia. It’s probably just semantics, but I consider values to be the things that are hardwired into you that truly matter – the building blocks and cornerstones for who you are. Your values are the things that matter to you most, and it’s these values that energise and feel authentic when you’re behaving in a way that honours, expresses and demonstrates them.

    When your talents and strengths coincide with your values – hold onto your hats and keys because that’s one hell of a ride.

    I love that you write about this stuff here Sonia – it matters to me too!

  73. Sonia, As always an excellent post. It was a good reminder for me to see today as I grab back many tasks I had previously delegated to others.

    I have some excellent team members but I’ve also had some very weak links. Because of that I found myself having to spend more time explaining a task, checking how it was done, and then teaching about how to avoid errors next time. Rinse and repeat…

    This weekend, I put an end to the madness and cut back to my high performing team members and got rid of the rest.

    Unfortunately this means much of the delegated stuff ends up back in my lap for now and I had resolved that it was “easier to do it myself” than continue on as I had been.

    Your post reminds me that this strategy does not play to my strengths but keeps me busy with technical and energy-draining stuff instead of focusing on creating and delivering the information products I’m known for (and make money from).

    But there’s the eternal challenge for entrepreneurs: finding the right people who are honest about their abilities and then pay attention to the details.

    • For me, I’ve found that it never gets resolved, just refined. :) Sounds like this is a temporary stage — best of luck in finding some A players to replace the ones you had to cut! It’s tricky.

  74. Sonia, great post about a topic I’m also really passionate about (and have been routinely starting conversations with others lately!).

    I’m in the middle of reading “Switch” right now and I kinda don’t want the book to end. The idea of focusing on the “bright spots” is a new one for me and for many trying to fix themselves.

    I also did that Strengths Finder test in Buckingham’s book a few months ago and here’s what happened to me: I was stunned that I’d been looking at my 5 signature themes (or strengths) as weaknesses. The second I decided to embrace the themes as strengths was a truly uplifting moment for me.

    Since then I’ve been creating more genuine content and communication with my mailing list, with clients, with business associates, with my friends…you name it. I’ve been more me…all over the place!

    I’m not saying I have it all down pat, but now when I spend time writing a newsletter or follow up series or teaching or managing a project…it feels energizing instead of, well, the opposite!

    Thanks again for expressing this concept of playing and living to your strengths.

    -Anne

    • Wow, that is so neat about seeing your key strengths as weaknesses. (Well, not neat that you were doing it, but neat that you figured that out.)

      I know what you mean about Switch. I’ve read it 3 or 4 times and I keep going back to it.

  75. This is similar to Jim Collins’ “Hedgehog Concept.” Finding what you can be the very best at in the entire world and focusing the majority of your time and energy on it. This post is a great reminder!

    • Absolutely, Sarah — I’m a big Good to Great fan, and the hedghog concept is one I think about a lot. In particular, that intersection between what you can be best at, what gives you juice, and what can be profitable for your company. Simple, but not always easy to figure out.

  76. Thanks for this fantastic article. I know I’ll come back to it many times, but it is especially timely right now. I’m trying to (finally) develop a clear and concise service list for my business. (I’m a graphic designer/writer/consultant/developer. Oh, and I made a video once too.) Hello, marketing nightmare. I’m all over the place. I can do a lot, but that doesn’t mean I have to, especially if it sucks the life out of me.

    Thanks for the reminder that if we just focus on the “easy,” holy-cow-I-can’t-believe-how-the-hours-have-flown-I-never-wanna-stop stuff… My clients win, and so do I.

  77. @Danielle, Yes but sometimes I have to focus on the “I-can’t-believe-this-is-the-third-and-final-demand-from-the-Australian-Taxation-Office-to-complete-and-return-their-boring-20-page-form.”

  78. Exactly the information I needed to help me discover my strengths and super charge my business.

  79. I love this definition of strengths
    Put your time on the work that gives you juice.

    I also love the advice to play to our strength. Sometimes we focus too much time on our supposed weaknesses.

    • And even very real weaknesses can often best be addressed by working with someone who’s great at them, rather than killing yourself to get up to mediocre at the thing you hate.

  80. Great post. I’m a creative writer and musician. I have a wide array of what I do with passion. My problem is less finding what I do well, and more narrowing my focus. One thing I’m happy about: I get very few negative comments.

  81. Wow! Just wonderful! As someone said “People don’t do what they can trying to do what they can’t” or something like that!

  82. Awesome piece.

    But, the notion that there’s no such thing as “talent” is nothing but the religious faith of the Tyranny of Democracy.

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/03/most-people-most-of-the-time-the-crowd-fallacy.html

  83. Holy crap Sonia, you just divined my nightly rituals, arguing with people who may as well be imaginary. One thing I would remind everybody of is that heated discussion on either side is productive for your blog. If you never get negative feedback, then you aren’t provocative enough. If you aren’t really saying anything or taking a stand, nobody has anything to say either way.

    However, a lot of it is inane. My favorite comment I’ve received of all time is “Are you f$#*ing stupid?” That’s it. Just a quick little note to make my day. For all I know the answer is probably yes :-)

    Thanks for an inspiring post,

    Darin L. Hammond

  84. Yes. Theoretically though – you like putting time in where your talent is. Or strength. It’s the same thing. And then – to keep happy once you’ve mastered it, you need to expand a little every time. To keep on learning new things.

  85. The last four points hold true in every sense. Its better to focus on what is working rather trying to spend time on those things that aren’t working. People say you should pick niche which you are passionate about, I pick up a niche and work toward it to make it a success. In short, there is nothing as such called talent. It all lies inside you. You just need to explore it.

  86. So encouraging! Thanks for posting.

  87. The truth is, it’s not a time management problem — it’s an energy management one. This was so profound for me. I am in total agreement that we must be working in our passion. When I start working in my passion, my whole demeanor changes. Thanks, Amy

  88. I have a gut feeling that this is going to be one of those landmark posts that shape my future direction. I’ve kind of instinctively known this for a long time but settled into a rut, working for customers that drive me crazy and doing endless tasks that deliver no satisfaction whatsoever.

    Time to turn full circle and see where my energy lies, like Amy I feel this is a simple yet profound post, thank you so much Sonia.

  89. Writing is energizing, the strength I want to focus on the most. Tech challenges are draining, soon I will find that magic tech genie to erase technobabble headaches. :-)

  90. Thanks for this interesting post! I like the idea that the problem people encounter in building a business is not a “time managing problem ” rather energy managing problem. Focusing more on what one does best and guarantees success rather than brooding over that which is not working at least yet.

  91. This article showed up in my inbox at the PERFECT time for me, as just last week I finally sat down and took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test. Taking that test, and reading the book, were so very informative – but not just to learn my strengths. They make the same major point as is made here: we should be FOCUSING on developing our strengths; not our weaknesses. More people need to hear this message!

  92. I met Yo-Yo Ma a few years ago when I was an archives intern for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He is probably one of the nicest, happiest people I have ever met. Absolutely full of joy!

  93. “As soon as you can (it could be today), find partners who are energized by the tasks that exhaust and deplete you. If you can’t find the right partner, outsource the aspects of your business that make you want to crawl back into bed.”

    I love this, Sonia. Thank you :)