Career Growth Strategy (1): Get comfortable in your own skin

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:

  1. Get comfortable in your own skin by celebrating who you are.
  2. Figure out what will get the company ahead.
  3.  Learn to articulate “your” story by highlighting how your differences are a tremendous asset.
  4. 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.

13 thoughts on “Career Growth Strategy (1): Get comfortable in your own skin”

  1. This is the strategy advocated by Marcus Buckingham in “First Break all the Rules” and his other books. I would recommend any of his books for their ease of reading and advice.

    1. I like Marcus Buckingham very much. He has been a strong advocate for this kind of thinking. This strategy actually originates with individuals who were way before my time, or Marcus’s time. Peter Drucker (often referred to as the Godfather of the field of Management), first started lecturing and writing about utilizing strengths in the 1950s and 1960s. David Keirsey (author of the best-selling Please Understand Me series) also lectured and wrote about this subject around this time as well. Another individual who did research in this area is Donald Clifton, who has been referred to as the Father Strengths Psychology. Marcus Buckingham became a champion for this kind of approach when he worked under Donald Clifton. Over the past decade, we have also written extensively on this subject in private publications which we have been using with our clients. Later this year, we plan to release some of these publications to the general public in a book format, and touch upon these themes through our blogs.

  2. Thanks – I think this advice is very helpful. How can I subscribe to this blog? I didn’t see a way, other than by leaving a comment and checking the box below. Thanks!

  3. Wow, thanks. Tying this in with positive thinking theory I realise now that the more I focus on my failings – the more of them I will see. Obviously this is a very business oriented website but what I’d love is more advice on how to teach this stuff to my kids so they don’t need to unlearn it now like me. If they are good at maths and ‘bad’ at english surely I can’t tell them to just forget about english and focus on maths. They ‘need’ both don’t they?

    1. As you’ve already guessed, we are certainly not instructing that they just forget about English. We are however, suggesting that most of the focus be invested in Math, and a smaller amount be invested in English. If a child’s strength is in Math, and they have the potential to be brilliant in this area, send them to math camp, get them involved in math competitions, provide video games that make math fun, show movies with famous math heroes. For English, you may simply have them stay after school to see their English teacher where they can get help for free.

  4. I am so glad you are addressing this. I work with adolescents with learning disabilities, and for many reasons (mostly parental and societal denial and non-acceptance), the emphasis is to try to overcome whatever the disability is in, rather than simply accepting the disability and putting efforts into strengths. This has led to discouragement, depression, alienation, and an incredible waste of resources that could instead be used to support students in areas in which they could be successful.

    1. Many times focusing on the disabilities can indeed make it worse for the child and for the parent(s). Having said that, however, there are times when a disability needs to be addressed in order to help them flourish in other areas of strength. An example that comes to mind is a student who had problems with his fine motor skills. He needed to work with an occupational therapist to strengthen his ability to hold a pencil, as this disability was hindering him from so many things. Once he overcame the disability, he proved to be a gifted artist with an ability to create wonderful drawings. The parents had no idea that their child had these gifts. Had he not received the assistance he needed for his situation, he would have still had great difficulty holding a pencil, and the crayons he needed to create such wonderful works of art.

  5. Wow! That is something that I believe that everyone should hear.
    It is so true how people tend to focus on all the negative points of a person and never encourage the natural talents.
    I am a high school student and have barely ever received truly positive sources of influence and guidance in building self esteem, which is so essential towards a successful life.
    Self doubt eats away at a person already and then to have people emphasizing any weakness, make it the “bad” become the ultimate sin or defect in a persons character, that turns into their personal demon .
    Thank you for helping people have the opportunity to embrace who they are by seeing the potential in their individuality.
    It as already helped my own confidence and self esteem improve and a better understanding of how to become my own person.

  6. It sounds like you are on a wonderful journey to better understand who you are. I love the phrase you used, “become my own person.” I hope that your growth will not only be a wonderful experience for you, but that it would lead you to guide others to build their confidence and self esteem.

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