What are your true strengths?

I don’t mean your physical strength, like how much you can bench press. Nor do I mean this in the way that job interviewers ask the question. This isn’t about what you do for others, or what you do to qualify for a particular job. Your true strengths are where you excel and feel most authentically like yourself.

Think of a time when you achieved something and were satisfied with the results. You might have even thought that you grew from the experience. Chances are this was a time where you put your true strengths to work.

When we know our strengths, we know ourselves better. We have a better idea of what makes us feel our proudest and our best. From there, we can choose activities that speak to our interests and talents, and we build our confidence along the way. 

There are plenty of ways to discover your strengths. One is to simply write down what it is that you’re good at. What talents do you have? Which of your skills have others complimented you on? What makes you feel the most “alive” and in the moment?

If you want a more structured way to find your strengths, the concepts below will help you drill down on where your talents lie.

Your Strengths and Your Purpose

Your personal strengths might connect with what you consider your purpose. A couple of different models explore this idea. Although these are both tied to your income, the questions they pose can help you highlight what you’re passionate about and where you can truly shine.

The first is the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which roughly translates to “a reason for being.” While there is some debate over exactly how one can find their ikigai, the concept is typically illustrated in a diagram of four intersecting circles, at the center of which is the ikigai.

To find your ikigai, you need to understand four things about yourself:

  • What you love to do
  • What you’re good at
  • What you can offer that the world needs
  • What you can be paid for

All four of these circles must intersect. Having too little of one or two parts creates an imbalance, as noted in the numbered sections below. This short video goes a bit further into the concept as it’s commonly defined and what you need in order to find harmony among these four aspects.

The other is a theory called The Hedgehog Concept, which I read about years ago in a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. In his book, Collins asserts that some of the world’s leading companies have outlasted their competition because they had an understanding of what makes them unique — or, as he terms it, their “Hedgehog Concept.” The Hedgehog Concept gets its name from an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” (i.e., to curl up into a ball to defend itself). Therefore, people who understand their own “thing” will have the best chance at success.

The Hedgehog Concept was designed with business owners and leaders in mind — those who want to help make their organizations go from good to great. But it can be used by anyone who can answer the three questions:

  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What drives your economic engine? (i.e., What can you get paid for?)

Both of these models are designed to help people find their passion and discover their “purpose,” whether professionally or personally. Yet I find that even considering the questions about what you love to do and how you can be of service can also point you in the direction of your natural talents and greatest strengths.

And yes, it’s okay if those things don’t earn you money. Your strengths may involve being a good listener, helping others, or using your creativity. It’s great if you’ve turned those assets into a career, of course. But a strength is not necessarily an indicator of success. It’s something you may have a natural aptitude for that you can use to feel like your most authentic self.

Your Strengths and Your Well-Being

Last year, I took a course called The Science of Well-Being. The class, taught at Yale by Dr. Laurie Santos, is available for free on Coursera, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already taken it. The lessons focus on finding ways to increase your happiness and well-being by practicing gratitude and mindfulness, forging meaningful connections with others, and paying more attention to the non-material rewards in your life.

One of the activities was to find our strengths and put them into practice each day for a week. The way we discovered these was by taking a quick online assessment. And who doesn’t love a good personality test?

The test, the VIA Character Strengths assessment, can show you where you truly shine. The questions take about five to ten minutes to answer. When you’re done, your results will rank the 24 character strengths that you embody to show you the best things about your personality. I also like this assessment because it’s not just linked to your career strengths. The results are insights that you can put into practice in your everyday life, both professionally (if applicable) and personally.

According to the assessment’s description: “What is unique about your profile is the position of each strength. The strengths listed at or near the top are likely to be those that are most representative of the ‘real you’.” These strengths, which fall into six categories, are the areas where you really thrive, no matter the situation. However, those at the bottom aren’t weaknesses; instead, they are strengths that come less naturally to you that may take more work for you to exhibit.

I’ve taken the assessment three times: once at the start of The Science of Well-Being last April, once after the end of the course in July, and the last time this month. Apparently, I’m pretty consistent: my top six have stayed the same, albeit in different order, each time. As of the third time, my top strengths were ranked in the following order:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  3. Honesty
  4. Love
  5. Creativity
  6. Love of Learning

The first time I took the assessment, I had thought that Creativity would be higher; it’s always ranked at number five or six. I was also surprised that a strength like Honesty had beaten it. Then I read the description and saw that “Honesty” had more to do with authenticity and personal responsibility rather than simply telling the truth. Putting that into perspective reminded me of how important it is to me that I express myself in an authentic way to others and ensure that the people I surround myself with also have that integrity.

I also realized that another higher strength, Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence, was something that helped me gain inspiration to inform my creativity. As for Gratitude, I have a daily practice, so maybe this isn’t so shocking. More on that in a future post.

Find Your Strengths… and Use Them

Taking the VIA Character Strengths assessment requires you to register on the site. (It’s free.) I recommend this so that you can save your results to revisit later. If you’d prefer not to sign up, you can look through the list of character strengths and pick the ones that resonate with you the most.

Once you have your list of character strengths, pick from the top strengths and see if you can put one into practice each day for a week. You can focus on your top three if those feel particularly strong, or you can choose a different one from your list to try out each day. The list linked above offers ideas on how you can put each strength into practice.

Knowing where our strengths lie is only part of our creative journeys. Despite our best efforts, we sometimes let our doubts take over and forget where we’re at our strongest. I’ll talk about why this happens next week. In the meantime, write your strengths down on a post-it note or keep them in a note on your phone, and remember that you have so much creative power within you!

Need more resources to tap into your strengths?

The Muse Manifesto is a digital magazine for anyone daring to live a creative life. The inaugural Winter 2022 issue is centered around making the new year your boldest and most creative year. It includes nearly 70 pages of reflection exercises, rituals, and new routines to implement in 2022. Learn more and download the issue for free here.