How to identify your strength(s)

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Idea Journal Weekly 3
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Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 9 · Issue #225 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: What are you actually good at? It can be an intimidating question. And answering it often requires asking other questions. This issue offers some help.
(~3 min read)

#1. Your strengths are consistent
Entrepreneur Emil Anton writes on his blog that a strength is something “you can consistently and reliably do well.”
And you probably have more than one. 
You might not think they’re amazing, but others do. 
See if you can identify three of your strengths by asking yourself the following questions: 
What’s the last problem you successfully solved?
What’s one instance where people complimented you on the way you did things?
What do your friends like about you?
What do other people come to you for help with?
Out of your friend group, what things are you better at than them?
#2. What's easy for you?
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in his essay What Doesn’t Seem Like Work that when you’re deciding on a career, you should pay attention to those things that seem like work to other people but are enjoyable to you.
And the stranger your tastes seem to others, “the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do.“
Figuring out which career is best for you can be a long and difficult process. To make it easier, Graham recommends asking yourself: What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?
Graham tells the story of his father, who was interested in math from a young age and eventually pursued a career modeling nuclear reactors.
For many people going through school, the problems at the end of the chapter of a math textbook represent work. But for Graham’s father they were the reward, and the text of the chapter “was just some advice about solving them.”
#3. Who do you envy?
If you’re still having a hard time identifying your strength(s), look to your envy and obsessions.
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, author and lecturer Susan Cain says that you can use an ugly emotion like envy as a guide to identify your genuine interests.
Cain tells the story of how envy helped to illuminate her own career path.
Before she wrote her book Quiet and became a well-known speaker, Cain worked as a corporate lawyer. When she met up with fellow lawyers, they would often talk about some colleague who just got to argue a brief before the Supreme Court, or had received some other legal accolade.
While the other lawyers were clearly envious of their successful colleague, Cain didn’t feel any envy – she was genuinely happy for the person.
At first, she congratulated herself for being so generous and not feeling envious, but she eventually realized that this wasn’t the right interpretation: “It’s just that I don’t want these things myself.”
It’s not that Cain was free of envy. At the time, the people she envied were those who were doing what she herself is doing now: writing and giving lectures about issues that are important to her.
As she puts it, “It’s the things you envy that point you in the direction of what you really want for yourself.”
There’s a useful corollary to the above lesson. When you find yourself obsessed with a person, that obsession is often coming from the same place: “I think you become obsessed with a person when that person has things that you wish to have in your life and you don’t have.”
Quote of the week
“A billboard that sat along the 101 Highway in the Bay Area in 2009 put it bluntly: ‘1,000,000 people overseas can do your job. What makes you so special?’”
- Entrepreneur and Founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman in a 2012 post on the platform
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