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Play to your strengths in work and life

It’s common to feel stuck in a rut at some point in your life, but there are ways to re-centre yourself and begin moving in the right direction. In Already Brilliant, Rachel Bridge provides practical tips on uncovering your true goals and strengths in work and life, and how you can fulfil them by focusing on your existing strengths. Here Rachel gives advice on how to identify your key strengths, so you can achieve your full potential.


By far the easiest way to understand what you are looking for is to ask yourself two simple questions. First, what am I good at? And, second, what do I enjoy doing? Your true strengths lie in the bit that overlaps.


Ask your friends and family

Strengths can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They might not be obvious, and they might not be the ones you were expecting. You might not even think that you actually have any strengths worth mentioning. Sometimes it can be hard to spot your own good qualities and to identify your positive attributes because you are so used to noticing the negatives and being critical of yourself. A good way to start looking for your strengths and attributes is to ask the people who know you well, who will be able to see the great things about you that you might not be able to.


Draw up a list of eight friends and members of your family, choosing them from different parts of your life – people you have known since you were young, people you met through work, people you see a lot, and people you only see occasionally. Now send each of them the same short email, asking them to describe you in three words. Tell them not to spend too long thinking about it; ideally you want the first three words that pop into their heads.


Now study the answers. You are not especially interested in analysing individual responses; instead you are looking for trends and common themes.


Look at your words – which resonate? Which surprise you? Do any show a side of you that makes you feel surprised, or perplexed, or pleased?


When I did this myself, I found several words that I would have used to describe myself, but also words I would never have thought of using. There were other words that described traits that I thought were not obvious but that I was pleased that someone else had noticed. ‘Hard-working’ was an obvious one; ‘independent’ I was surprised at; ‘quirky’ I was secretly very pleased about.


One tip – if you have children in your life who know you well, whether they are your own children, or grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or children of friends, then ask them too, because they can sometimes come up with things that no-one else might think to mention. From one child I got ‘kind, protective and silly’, and from another I got ‘funny, hard-working and mad’. Both felt good.


Now think about how you might be able to use these strengths to help you achieve the goals you have identified in the previous chapters. Might some of these be useful in helping you move towards them?


Dig out your old school reports

If you are feeling brave, go round to your parents’ house and spend an afternoon looking through the rotting cardboard boxes in the attic to find your old school reports. Ignore all the bits where your teachers wrote about not concentrating in class and always handing your homework in late, and focus instead on anything positive they wrote about you. At the very least it will provide you with some amusing anecdotes to tell your friends. At best, though, it might remind you of some of the good qualities you have that you had forgotten about.


You can use all these qualities and strengths to help you achieve your goals. If your teachers saw you as being diligent and tenacious, for example, how incredibly reassuring to know that you already have what it takes to stick to your plan and put the effort in to achieve your aims.


Give yourself space to think

Now that you have asked others for their input, it is time to add your own ideas about what your strengths might be. The best way to do this is to give yourself a bit of time and space to reflect on what might be your good qualities. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time and space, and it doesn’t have to be a formal process – a moment of quiet, or a long walk can be just as useful as an expensive retreat. Perhaps more so: my friend Mark booked himself onto a ten-day silent meditation in order to sort his thoughts out. Those on the retreat were allowed to communicate with each other only by writing notes on a piece of paper. He lasted less than 24 hours.


Whatever kind of space you manage to find, the secret is not to impose any expectations on it. You want to let your mind wander freely, not to direct its path.


Now write down what think your strengths are. Don’t be modest, because you are looking for anything that can be useful. And do make sure you write them down, because you may quickly forget the insights you’ve had once you go back to everyday life. A written record to refer back to is crucial. Indeed, throughout this process it can be useful to carry a notebook and pen so that you can keep all your ideas and thoughts in one place.


Now reflect on what you have written. How might these qualities be put to work to achieve your aims?