Recently I was at a speaking engagement discussing how to create a “Strengths-Based” culture in organizations vs. a “Command and Control” environment. One of the participants asked two critical questions. He asked, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if we determined and focused on young people’s strengths, at an early age, instead of focusing on fixing their weaknesses?” and, “Shouldn’t we know our strengths before we find ourselves miserable at work because it wasn’t the right fit?”
My answers… yes and yes!
His questions had perfect timing, because I had just read an Associated Press article about Dr. Edward Zuckerberg. He is the father of Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook. Dr. Zuckerberg encourages parents to support their children’s strengths and passions with a balance of “work and play.”
“Probably the best thing I can say is something my wife and I have always believed in,” he said. “Rather than imposing upon your kids or try to steer their lives in a certain direction, recognize what their strengths are and support what their strengths are and support the things they’re passionate about.”
Based on the apparent success of his four children, he might have something here.
We spend half of our waking hours at work — 90,000 hours of our lives, if we work from college graduation to retirement at age 65. That’s a lot of time that can be spent doing what you love — and getting paid to do it — or hating getting up every morning. In the United States, only 13% of workers say they find their work meaningful, and only 20% think their jobs are using their talents (Miller, 1999). If you’re like me, you want to be counted as the 1 in 5 that enjoys going to work 90,000 hours of your life.
Imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which we all knew and lived through our greatest talents, a society in which each of us would view others in terms of their unique talents and strengths. What would that look like? How would people feel? How would they act? What would our organizations look like? What would happen to social relationships in a strengths-based world?
Imagine that by age 20 you would know each of your greatest talents and have an understanding of the potential for strength they offered. Wouldn’t you naturally have the self-confidence that would come from awareness of your potential, and wouldn’t awareness of your talents bring you a sense of identity and purpose?
If you were raised in a society that enthusiastically helped its youth fully know and understand their talents, so much would change. You would be more energized to fulfill your purpose. You would be less frustrated because the trial-and-error process of discovering your strengths would be greatly diminished. All in all, you could live the life you were born to live.
Fortunately, there are several wonderful tools out there that help people determine and focus on their strengths. I recommend StrengthsExplorer (for youth ages 10-14), StrengthsQuest (for ages 15 and up), and StrengthsFinder 2.0 (for adults). (All are available on our Resources page in the “Strengths” category.)
The truth is, learning about your innate talents and strengths as early as possible in life — and applying them to reach your maximum potential — isn’t just good for the individual, it’s good for everyone. Simply put, if we all focused our lives on building upon our strengths, the world would be a better place.
Could there be an outcome more worthy than that?