Tip #3: But does focusing on strengths pay off? (Yes!)
Most people are familiar the idea of "playing to your strengths" as a guideline for a more successful life. However, we are so inculcated from birth to fix our weaknesses, that it becomes instinctual - particularly under pressure - to resort to this mode. Despite rationally acknowledging the notion of focusing on natural talents, most people fail to make the kinds of changes in their lives to truly live in, and through, their native strengths. There are some obvious reasons for this though. Challenge 1) in order to design and live a life designed for your strengths, you not only have to know what they are. But, challenge 2) you also have to know what your weaknesses are and quit or delegate doing those things. Finally challenge 3), the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths are not clear enough for most people to make the changes required.
Let's explore each of these challenges in order:
Challenge 1: Know (and accept) the specific nature of your strengths. (2 posts ago)
Challenge 2: Knowing (and accepting) your weaknesses - then quitting or delegating them. (last post)
Challenge 3: But does investing in strengths really pay off? Are the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths worth the risks and sacrifices? If you have ever quit something too early and regretted it later, then you can be certain that you'll naturally be driven to not let that happen again. Sadly, most of these kinds of regrets are legacies of childhood and teenage years where discipline and follow-through were not fully developed. For most people these same examples of regret are rare as adults. It is a sad fact that what most people regret in life is the things they didn't do...
Is it worth it to quit or delegate away weakness focused activities? Yes. Consider this, recent studies have proven that willpower is both a) a deplete-able resource and b) fairly consistently distributed across people of all walks. This whole notion of super-achievers having unlimited discipline and willpower is a pure myth. Instead, most highly successful people share two traits: 1) they have systems, routines, and rewards in place that remove as much of the discipline and willpower required for them to achieve their goals as possible and 2) they spend a higher percentage of their day pursuing their strengths - activities that recharge their willpower reserves.
People always assume that as an Olympic athlete, I was a disciplined machine. But the reality is that it requires relatively little willpower to train hard while on the Olympic team. First, you have a program with set times and set activities that are NOT optional. Second, you have coaches yelling and exhorting you to work harder should you show up late or fail to put in your best effort. Third you are surrounded by high caliber, inspiring and competitive people. Fourth, and most important, you are doing something you are uniquely talented at (following a strength). Sure, lots of days that become long miserable slogs, but there are also those days it is pure joy to be able to skate 30mph hour and push 3G’s, flying around the corners like a jet fighter.
I have been on a slow progressive journey to design a life for my strengths that has met with many unforeseen twists and turns. My first job after retiring from sport was a-now-laughable-position as a PMO (program manager) for a massive technology conversion - Y2K at Goldman Sachs. Laughable because that position could scarcely been more mis-aligned with my native talents. I hated that entire year, was completely exhausted every day and just showing up for work was a major effort. I'd say I was using perhaps 10% of my strengths and mostly spent time trying to fix my weaknesses. I then moved on to designing new business models and trading systems for Enron. I was very good at the initial design work, but had to work very hard at all the details required for implementation / launch - a mix of perhaps 50/50 strengths vs. weakness focus.
After Enron I quit consulting to join my favorite client U.S. Cellular where over time I took the reins of a massive innovation effort. My strengths / weakness ratio tipped up to 75% during that project and I worked crazy hours - not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For years I was jazzed to come to work every day. Then the innovation project was over, and I left to work for an innovation consulting firm. Sadly what the firm really needed (and wanted from me) was more of a program management role and I stepped back to 40% strengths / 60% weaknesses. Two years after that I asked the CEO to design a new role for me leading a new practice of innovation leadership development and moved back to a 70%/30% split of my strengths and weaknesses. Shortly thereafter I did my first paid keynote speech, and loved it, and it was very well received. Three people in the audience hired me, and then three more, and I suddenly realized I have found what I love most.
Now I've left consulting and I'm doing full time speaking and workshops and spend 90% of my day living in my strengths and experiencing flow regularly. I have probably worked as many or more hours over the last months than ever: I didn't even take weekends off and worked late most nights, but it required no willpower because it was what I wanted to be doing. Over the last eight months I've never been happier, more fulfilled, or healthier AND I will likely earn more financially this year than I have. Because I'm using virtually no willpower to do my work, my risk aversion has gone way down, my resilience way up, and I've been willing to take the kinds of risks I previously would not have considered - including reciting an 88 line poem for the mayor of Chicago, writing a book, performing in a music / dance / poetry rant collaboration, perhaps even co-writing the lyrics for an album with the amazing and talented musician Anthony Snape. AND, more importantly, I’ve significantly slowed down my perception of time passing…
2015, for me, lasted about 15 years or longer in terms of my perception. The summer was far far longer than any I remember as a child, and 2016 is off to a similar pace – high speed in the present with travel, new people and new relationships, but expansive in memory as I continue to push myself to live in my strengths, take bigger and bigger risks, and create those event horizon moments of “really living.”
One of my favorite questions is, “what are you best at?” Do you know the answer? Do your friends, co-workers, and children know? If not, then how can you (or they) design a life to perform at your best, experience the joy of flow every day, and slow down time?
It is time: time to race your strengths and design around your weaknesses. To “really living.” - JKC
PS: I just published a coffee table book of the Art of Really Living Manifesto: See it here at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1530709253 and buy it here on Createspace https://www.createspace.com/6148570 and get a 25% off discount - code: SFM6BEU7