There is something that you can do better than anyone else in the world. You were born with talents as unique as your DNA. Perhaps you have noticed how some people have a natural ability to comfort others in times of need. Another person has an innate curiosity and is always learning. And the next person has a great deal of talent for selling and persuading. These differences create far more diversity than broad categories of gender, race, age, or nationality do. This diversity of talent is what makes individuals distinct from one another.
Yet society keeps telling you that you can be anything you want to be . . . if you just try hard enough. This age- old aspirational myth does more harm than good. While people can overcome adversity and are remarkably resilient, the most potential for growth and development lies in the areas where you have natural talent to start with. The more time you spend building on who you already are, the faster you will grow.
That is the main lesson I learned from my late mentor and grandfather, Don Clifton, who spent a lifetime studying people’s strengths. Instead of aspiring to be anything you want to be, you should aim to be more of who you already are. Starting with your natural talents — then investing time in practicing, building skills, and increasing knowledge — yields a much greater return.
Gallup’s research suggests that when you use your strengths, you can double your number of high-quality work hours per week from 20 to 40. It also reveals that people who focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to have high levels of overall life satisfaction.
If you spend most of your life trying to be good at everything, you eliminate your chances of being great at anything. Unless your goal is to be mediocre at a lot of things, starting with what you are naturally good at is a matter of efficiency. Focusing on strengths is in many ways a basic time-allocation issue. Every hour you invest in an area where you have natural talent has a multiplying effect, whereas each hour you spend trying to remedy a weakness is like working against a gravitational force. Yet many people spend years or even decades working on weaknesses in hopes that doing so will make them well-rounded.
Do everything you can to avoid falling into this trap. While well-roundedness may be helpful for acquiring the basic tools for any trade — such as reading, writing, and arithmetic — it loses value as you get closer to finding a career. At that point, what’s more important and relevant is what sets you apart. If you want to be great at something in your lifetime, double down on your talents at every turn.
Excerpted from Are You Fully Charged?, by Tom Rath. Silicon Guild, May 2015.