Gifts, Talents, Skills, and Strengths
If we are not doing what we are best equipped to do, we will always have a lack of fulfillment in the soul that will get worse over the years.
One of my favorite shows growing up was the X-men. It was a cartoon about mutants who are a subspecies of humans with supernatural abilities. One thing I recently realized is that I’ve never seen a mutant who was jealous of another mutant’s power. Because of their personal connection to and desire to master their own talent, they had no need to envy another mutant’s talent. We need to be more like the X-Men. Unlike them, far too many people are consumed with jealousy of others because they haven’t taken the time to discover their own abilities or haven’t stepped out due to a lack of confidence or awareness of their own abilities. Everyone has gifts and talents. A gift is something you do extraordinarily well with the least amount of effort. A talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving that can be used in a creative way.
There are several types of gifts and talents.
-You may have the ability to sift through your world, observe things deeply, while others let things slip past unnoticed. You have the talent of observation and analysis, which would make you a great researcher.
-You may have the ability to see through clutter and find the best route to take. You’re a strategist.
-You may have the ability to persuade other people to your point of view with provocative speech and reinforce it with your actions. You have the talent of speaking and leadership.
-You may have the ability to take in large amounts of data and research from books and lectures and organize it in a coherent manner so that it can be easily accessed. You are a teacher.
-You may have the ability to put people in crisis at ease and help them navigate difficult situations. You are a coach and a counselor.
-You may have the ability to follow through on a plan that has been set into motion. You are an initiator and activator.
The above examples are different kinds of gifts and talents. With practice, they can be turned into skills and strengths. A skill is the ability to perform fundamental steps of a process. A strength is the ability to provide almost perfect performance of a talent. The folks who use their strengths invest their time discovering what their talents are, practicing them endlessly and discovering how they could apply them. Many people are disengaged from discovering their own abilities and talents because they are too busy watching other people use theirs, oftentimes on social media. They lose sight of who they are and what they are uniquely designed to do. It’s been said that there are 800,000 plants in the world and the conditions required for growth vary. There are as many talents as there are plants if not more. Keep that in mind as you work hard and maybe struggle to find your talent and its unique application. In my experience, most people are disengaged from their work. I believe a big reason is because of the inability to identify their talent or to make the connection between their talent and the work they are doing. The key to re-engagement is finding the match between your talents and calling. That’s where a lot of the work is done. You can streamline the process if you work with a quality system like the Strengths Finder (see information at the end of the chapter) or if you consult with a career coach.
When you are not finding regular expression of your talents, something inside of you is being diminished. To find that expression, you have to dig because your talents are often buried. You have to go looking for it. Begin to take steps to discover your talents but also interests, passions, and causes that excite you. The reason why these are called gifts and talents is because there is nothing you've done to earn them. It simply is a part of who you are and how you're wired. When taken to its fullest point, the use of the talents will give you a greater level of fulfillment that can translate into great effort and achievement when surrounded by the tools needed to bring it to fruition. This is how you begin creating meaningful work and ultimately a meaningful life.
For this exercise, I want you simplify your possible talents using verbs. This will take some time and reflection. I want you to select 3 verbs and 3 interests. Now this doesn’t mean that you are limited to 3 but for now, we want to identify the top 3 for each as a point of focus.
Teach – Organize – Lead– Comfort – Counsel – Create – Change – Guide – Inform - Consult– Entertain – Calculate – Search – Write
– Speak – Listen – Sing– Act – Guard - Protect – Research – Coach – Motivate – Compete – Plan
Politics – Studies of Culture – Business – Animal Life – Social Justice – Finance – Education – Travel – World History – Great Inventors
– Family Health – Fitness – Airplanes – Faith – African American History – Music – Gospel – Mental Illness – Community Building –
My three verbs are teach, motivate, and listen. The way that I do that now is by being a financial planner, a coach, speaker, facilitator and writer. The three subjects I care about in this season of my life are family health, social justice, and community building. You may want to take the time to brainstorm your own verbs or interests if they are not listed here. Think about your experiences. Think about activities you do naturally. Think about what comes to your mind often. What stirs up your passion and leaves you with many questions? It took years before I could land on something concrete and begin to put these skills and interests to use. It should not have taken that long. If I had the right tools and information, I could have started the exploration process sooner and not have wasted so much time. One thing that I see often is people working in a field simply because they are good at it, but it doesn’t resonate with them deeply. You want to find a marriage between your talents and things you’re passionate about. That will put you on the road to your calling as we discussed in Chapter 1.
What are your 3 verbs and 3 interests that resonate with you most deeply and why? How might these verbs and subjects be present in your life now? If not present, what can you begin doing to use them? Are there organizations you can join? In what professions can you see yourself using these gifts? You may have a good idea already of what you want to do. Let this exercise help you to be more concrete. There’s power in naming your gifts and interests. It helps you to move out with a greater level of certainty and confidence. Just so you know, your gifts and interests will unfold and evolve over time so this isn’t the last time you’ll need this exercise. This is just a start.
For some people, this exercise really helps to bring things to the surface. Other people need a little more to prime the pump and get them reflecting and thinking. You are not what you do, but you will not be the best version of yourself until you begin using your gifts and talents and doing what you do well. Below are some strategies to use.
Strategies for Identifying Gifts Talents
1. Sometimes you won’t know what you do well until you step out and try. It might be scary but it’s worth it. You don’t have to start in front of hundreds of people. You need a certain amount of privacy to have the courage to fail. Try using your gifts with a few close and trusted friends or a mentor and let them give you feedback. You have talents, but they will never serve you if you don’t step out and use them. You want to do what you love to do. You may not find it on your first job, but don't give up until you find it. You’re never too old and it’s never too late to step out. There are tons of example of people from their late 40s to their 80s who step out and try new things that add value to other people’s lives in the process.
2. Ask the people close to you what they think you do well. This is probably one of the better ways to begin discovering your talents. Ironically, people who are talented often don’t know they have a talent because it comes so naturally to them while other people may see what they do as rare. Chapter 5 will address obtaining feedback from others.
3. Expose yourself to people who are extremely talented and skilled at the activities you find interest in. Listen to interviews. Watch movies or documentaries about them. Read their books or books about them. Watch their performances. Go to concerts. Attend their conferences or seminars. The point is to find a way to observe people in their element. This is very inspiring and contagious. Examples: Allen Iverson watched Michael Jordan. Warren Buffett read Benjamin Graham. Denzel Washington saw Sidney Poitier. Exposure is key.
4. Use the resources below to begin to discover your gifts and talents. For a small fee, you can take some of these assessments.
1) Strengths Finder – ages 26 and up – Go to www.strengthsfinder.com
2) Strengths Quest – ages 15 to 25 – Go to www.strengthsquest.com.
3) Strengths Explorer – Ages 10 to 14 – www.strengths-explorer.com.
4) Strong Interest Inventory – www.cpp.com - Search for the Strong Interest Inventory.
5) Visit the site - www.onetcenter.org which is a great sight to start for your occupational search. You can actually browse the site by your abilities, interests, knowledge, skills, even work styles and context.
We don't rise to the level of what we want. We fall to the level of what we’re skilled at doing.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10, NIV
Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. Proverbs 22:29, NIV