In my previous article (Popular Question From an Introvert), I stated that moving ahead in your career isn’t about making clever maneuvers. But rather, that it’s about building for the long term. I ended by introducing what it takes to do this:
- Get comfortable in your own skin by celebrating who you are.
- Figure out what will get the company ahead.
- Learn to articulate “your” story by highlighting how your differences are a tremendous asset.
- Articulate how your unique talent, viewpoint, and approach would be a significant advancement for the enterprise.
In this article, I will expand on the first step: (1). Get comfortable in your own skin by celebrating who you are. To start, I’d like to take a look at why it is so difficult to celebrate who we are, and then I’ll move on to how we can shift our perspective.
More often than not, we tend to focus on our weaknesses, and try to make steps to improve in those areas. Consider the typical performance review with a boss: The first few minutes are typically spent on what you do well, and then the rest of the hour is taken up by a grueling analysis on those areas where you could “improve”, “pay more attention to” and “overcome.” This mentality starts as early as the grade school years. Consider a report card where a student brings home 5 ‘A’s, 2 ‘B’s, 1 ‘C’ and the forbidden ‘D’… Which grade gets the most attention? (In case it’s not that obvious for some, the answer is the forbidden ‘D’).
We live in a culture where we are made to feel inferior because of the things we don’t do well. And the result of focusing on our weaknesses is that we may improve somewhat in those areas, but we do so with a great deal of stress, and depletion of energy. It is draining to keep working at those areas which are unnatural to us. We put in a great deal of time and energy to improve in our weaknesses, and we only get a small return on our investment. The ‘D’ may turn into a ‘C’ and the ‘C’ into a ‘B’. But, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to do this. When we invest in our weaknesses, it costs us a great deal.
Even more than the expense of time and energy, there is a greater hidden cost which never quite makes it into the spotlight. We rarely talk about the opportunity cost of investing in our weaknesses. For all the strenuous efforts we spend on our weaknesses, these efforts could be far better invested by putting it into our strengths. In spending the time on developing our weaknesses, the ‘D’ and the ‘C’ may improve, but it’s often at the cost of the ‘A’s suffering and turning into ‘B’s. So the net result is that you turn a student with some exceptional talents and some weaknesses into what society calls a well-rounded individual. I think the term well-rounded individual should more accurately be called average individual. These are the folks who aren’t really great at anything, but at the same time, they are not all that terrible at anything either.
When you have a bunch of average individuals who make up an enterprise, at best, you have an average enterprise. Exceptionally talented individuals are usually very lopsided. They may be extremely talented in one area, and utterly incompetent in another. The strategy I suggest is that you invest in your natural talents. In doing this, a small investment can provide a significant return, and a large investment can lead to exponential results. And when we see these kinds of gains, there is much to celebrate, and we feel momentum because we are energized, rather than depleted, and we actually enjoy spending time this way.
This seems straightforward, when looked at in this way, but why is it that most of us don’t do this? I’d like to suggest a couple reasons for this. The first reason is that we are not all that aware of our natural talents, and the second is that we play the “comparison game.” The key is to figure out who you are, and not who someone else is, and to celebrate you for being you. Instead, we don’t celebrate who we are because we are constantly looking at others rather than ourselves. We envy the “beautiful” skin we see on others, and we see our own skin as being “flawed” — and therefore, we end up beating ourselves up rather than paying attention to how we can make our own unique contribution. Getting comfortable in your own skin is about recognizing where your own natural talents lie. It’s about recognizing that you have something unique to offer, and to capitalize on these areas.
I’ll continue to develop this strategy by moving progressively through each of the steps during my next blog entries. Come back on Friday when we discuss the second step for building a long term career: (2). Figure out what will get the company ahead.