Got Strengths?

So, what are you good at? If you're like many people, you may have no clue.

Well, that's perhaps putting it too strongly. Often we have lots of clues, but we don't put the clues together properly and we walk around with the same tired stories in our heads about what we're "good at" and "not good at."  

"Oh, I'm terrible at athletics," say many folks who endured the horrors of high school gym classes--never realizing that they might actually have been perfectly competent at golf or archery or dancing or swimming, had the right supportive conditions been present. "I can't cook," "I suck at public speaking" "I'd make a terrible mother..." Any of these could be true, but there's also a good chance that these declarations are way more about attitude then aptitude.

Now, in my mind, this is not necessarily a problem. There is absolutely no reason to change an "I suck at..." story if it's about something you have no interest in doing. The story makes a nice handy excuse not to do that unappealing thing, right?  "Gosh, I'm sorry I can't help your daughter sell 348 boxes of Girl Scout cookies by hawking some at work, I'm really bad at sales!"  The hell with "well-rounded." I say embrace your suckage and spend energy on things you actually care about.

On the other hand, what about stuff you think you're bad at that you'd really like to be able to do better? Sometimes it might be helpful to try to teach yourself a new story.

image: natalie dee

So here's one idea: Try putting the blame for your previous failures on bad luck, a lousy learning environment, your youth, limited time to practice, a lack of confidence, all those drugs you did back in the 70's... whatever it takes to stop thinking of your lack of skill as an identity, and more as a product of outside factors. Congenital optimists are really good at this!  Some of the rest of us may have to work harder at it, but trust me, blaming others for your failures is a really handy skill to have in life.

Then, when you're ready to try again, write a new story!  Don't forget that struggling at the beginning is part of any good narrative.  Would "Rocky" have been so popular if Sylvester Stallone started off a heavyweight champion from the very first frame instead of a deadbeat loser who needed to gulp down raw eggs and run up flights of stairs accompanied by blaring trumpet music?  The fact that something doesn't come easily at first makes it an even better story when you get good at it.

And finally, try to rediscover all the things that you're already good at. It's amazing how easy it is to take your talents for granted or let them languish.  Were you the school spelling bee champ in 5th grade? Did you run a 10K race and beat your personal best time? Can you plan and execute a birthday party with a guest list of 37 screaming 6-year-olds? Did you recently survive a morning at the department of motor vehicles without physically assaulting anyone?  Chances are you have many accomplishments that point to qualities like perseverance, creativity, empathy, etc. Remember you have these qualities, and figure out how you're going to use them in new endeavors.

Anyone have a awesome or weird talent you forgot to give yourself credit for? Anything you think you stink at that you're tempted to try again?


  1. Excellent advice, Crabby. I embrace my suckage all the time. But if I want to do something I'm lousy at I do it anyway. I taught myself to play guitar even though music seriously ain't my thing. I occasionally try to make pancakes, but again, not a talent I have. But I am good at a few things and have applied those skills elsewhere.

  2. I am amazing at making color-coded organizational spreadsheets. Useful skill in so many situations! I actually am terrible at athletics - clumsy plus I hate sweating and being out of breath - but that's one I've been trying (and will continue to try) to get over for years for simple health reasons.

  3. I wish you lived closer, Leah, I'd love to try your "untalented" pancakes! I bet they're mighty good.

  4. Color-coded organizational spreadsheets? Awesome! Anything with the word "organizational" in it is a challenge for me. But perhaps if I looked into the "color-coded" part it might sound more appealing!

  5. By the way, comment moderation is supposed to be "off" but comments aren't appearing. Gotta jump on the elliptical, so if a comment doesn't show up, I'll publish a bit later.

  6. My congenital optimism has taken a beating in fifteen months of looking for a new/different/second job. One of the things I'm truly bad at is selling (I dropped out of Girl Scouts rather than face a fourth cookie sale!) and that includes myself. One of my talents is being organized, so I have lists that show exactly how many jobs I've applied for and what the outcomes have been. Bleah.

    (By the way, in Louisville there was a businessman/philanthropist named J. Graham Brown so your new handle is causing some cognitive dissonance.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  7. Unfortunately, things like singing (I do it anyway, but I'm really, really bad at it, and all the practice in the world hasn't helped!) don't improve with practice ;-)

    On the other hand, I've found success breeds success. I've gotten one short story published recently and it's adding all sorts of new life to my writing career; given me the confidence to go about it, rather than writing, sticking it in a box and saying "I wish..."

  8. Hmmmn... well, I have a talent for sleeping in, and for rationalizing my lack of exercise, and for finding excuses for not pulling weeds, and...
    Gosh, who knew I had all these talents? :)

  9. I do think that we all have to look at this from our own perspective & try from there.. I know for me, the past always tricks me up - then I tell myself I can & I try again - then it comes back to haunt me again. I just need to learn to let the past go but man, with some of the crap that happened, it just invades my life & dreams. I keep trying though! ;-)

  10. How about if you were really good at something then life happened so you couldn't do it for awhile and now you're not very good at it? Being a kook once is bad enough but having to do it twice sucks! I like what you said about rediscovering. That's sounds (feels) much better than referring to myself as a kook again.

  11. I suck at making plans for my future. Any time I think out a 5 year goal, all the steps and start to implement it, something in my life goes seriously awry and puts an end to the plans. Which kind of makes me pretty good at winging it.

  12. Hey MaryAnne, with your verbal + organizational skills, I bet you're better than you think at selling. Maybe it's the marketing YOURSELF that feels ikcy? We women were brought up not to do that.

    Congrats Lynn on the short story, and good point about confidence!

    Merry, I know for a fact you've got tons of other talents. My personal favorite: flow charts!

    Jody, yeah the past can trip you up, but I gotta think any woman who can kick ass on the fitness front like you can has gotta be pretty darn resourceful.

    Oh god Joyce I'm so there with the rekookification. Sucks, huh? I have a hard time imaging you as kooky though!

    Reb, I think winging it an awesome skill to have! You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men... wait, what DO they say about that? I never learned the end of that quotation.

  13. I gotta admit that I have a thing for people with more letters after their name than in their name!

    It's a good thing!

  14. Dr. J--Hey, I paid a lot of money for those initials! Seemed like about time I started using 'em. Normally I'd leave them off, but there are so many quacks out there in the Life Coaching field, I thought it might lend a little credibility. Not that someone named "Crabby McSlacker" has a lot to say about credibility...


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