In the last couple of weeks I've read several books about how to figure out your passions and strengths. Seems funny that people wouldn't know what they care about or are good at, but with all the pressures to please other people or meet their expectations it's pretty easy for the answers to those simple questions to get buried under a thick layer of confusion.
According to one book I found helpful (Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton), most organizations are built around two flawed assumptions about people:
1. Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of weakness.
Not so, say the authors, who assert:
1. Each person's talents are enduring and unique.
2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.
If this is so, then the path to a satisfying life and a productive organization will include allowing - and in fact, encouraging - each person to recognize and operate in his or her area of talent rather than the hopeless task of trying to develop skill in areas in which they are just not wired up to excel.
"The real tragedy of life is not that each of us doesn't have enough strengths, it's that we fail to use the ones we have. Benjamin Franklin called wasted strengths 'sundials in the shade.' (p. 12)
One result of being too fixated on addressing our own weaknesses - and those of others - is that character traits that are neutral or hold keys to what someone's talents are may be given labels that are quite negative:
"[The person] who can't wait to act? She is impatient or impulsive.
"People who are brilliant at imposing order and structure on the world? Anal.
"People who claim excellence? Egotists.
"People who anticipate and are always asking 'What if?' Worriers." (p. 35)
The authors define talent as being any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied, with the addition of skills and knowledge. And they say you will never be able do do something with excellence if you lack the basic underlying talent.
There's a test you can take online, although the only way to take it is to purchase a copy of the book and get the access number; the one in my library copy did not work. I was curious enough that I got on Amazon and purchased the more recent book in the series, StrengthsFinder 2.0. (Ha - the Internet is the fastest way to spend money, isn't it?) This book had much less to explain the whole idea, but more and more practical info about each of the 34 talents, or "themes."
The results say that my top five talents are the ones they call connectedness, strategic, achiever, learner, and ideation.
> Summary of the 34 themes.
I found the concept and the theme descriptions more helpful than the online assessment, personally. But I haven't studied the report or discussed it with anyone, either.