I have spent most of the morning working on a project for a fabulous client. I like to make all of my clients blissfully happy – and this one is no exception. On the surface, there is nothing all that striking about this project – it’s the kind we do all the time. The difference with this one – it turns out – is that I made one FATAL ERROR.

What’s that error, you ask?

I ventured outside of my “strengths”. Way outside.

You probably know this is a bad bad idea. I even knew this was a bad idea. That’s why I’m thinking it may be worth it to remind you (okay, myself, too) of the reasons to stick to your strengths. Sometimes we forget stuff, even important stuff like this.

Know Thy (My) Self

Here’s what I know about myself: I am a razor-sharp listener, a hard-core problem-solver (I love and excel at almost any real-life puzzle), and I can help you say what you are trying to say even more powerfully in a voice that makes your soul sing.

I can do other things, too. I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie that has inspired grown men in my family to sing and dance. (True story.) But even those cookies aren’t my strength. Here’s how I know.

First of all, I refer to the major “strengths” expert organization – Gallup. Here’s the way they define a strength:

A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.

This is a serious statement to affirm about ourselves. And yet, think it over. You absolutely have activities in your life that you can affirm in this way (if you allow yourself to be so… brazen.)

So, that’s my first evidence. I can happily affirm that above statement about my listening and my collaborative messaging projects (still wavering a bit on the problem-solving – just so many complex real-life problems I have yet to solve even remotely “near-perfect”-ly.)

The Strength is in the Doing

Further evidence comes in the form of my own subjective experience of activities, which is consistent with lots of strengths and flow research. Things like: total absorption that detaches from a sense of time, a powerful energy zing, precision focus and heightened attention. I feel capable and almost entirely certain we will arrive at a brilliant outcome (yes, I have moments of wavering and fear – but I let them go asap.) This happens when I help someone vision their business, when I interview another brazen soul entrepreneur and when I go through the messy yet reliable messaging process. It also happens when I am with a good friend and we are diving deep into issues and stories.

It doesn’t really happen when I make Auntie Chelle’s Chocolate Chip cookies. Plus, while they are exceptionally yummy when they turn out right, I definitely don’t have a “near-perfect” outcome when I bake them. Sometimes they are simply too cakey. Still not sure why. Another sign that baking these cookies is not my strength – I’m not really that motivated to solve this issue, though I have pondered it regularly when I am in the baking mode.

We Are So Ourselves

The thing is – we are just so ourselves! Yes, we change and grow. Sometimes we even make dramatic changes. Yet, there are strands that have woven the length of our lives. Apparently as a very young kid, I was notorious for relentlessly asking a zillion questions. Guess how I dive into the three favorite activities/strengths above… yep, lots of questions. LOTS. I LOVE questions and the stories they reveal.

This project I am working on will turn out fine. It has to – I won’t stop until it does. But I can tell you, I am drained and frustrated and more connected with my inabilities than with my brilliance and strengths. That’s definitely not good for my business – or any other part of my life, really.

In the spirit of questions: Tell me, what are your strengths/favorite activities? And how does it feel when you are engaged in them?

Thank you, RightIndex, for posting this cool bodybuilder image on Flickr.

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