Playing to your Strengths vs. Proving Yourself

I’m really lucky to work in an office with three lovely ladies I get along with so well.  We chat, we vent, we motivate each other with our goals and we get together at lunchtime to watch British TV on our computers.  They’ve become great friends, and yesterday, I was chatting with one of them about the idea of playing to your strengths versus feeling the need to prove yourself. 

Our organization is really great for putting people in roles they’re best suited for; I quickly moved into a position where I’m in charge of creating and booking all advertising and marketing material, as well as doing a fair bit of writing, whether for radio scripts, our website or people’s resumes.  I enjoy all these tasks, and after our “achieve your dreams” –themed retreat last year, I told my boss I wanted to challenge myself and start teaching.  

My wish was granted – the thought absolutely terrified me, but I was on a mission to overcome my anxiety and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I wanted to get my confidence back and stop being afraid.  So I was given one class every week.  These people saw past the fear and doubt and trusted me to develop a curriculum and actually deliver the information to people.  I’ve been doing it for a few months now, and yes, it’s become easier – I no longer get butterflies if I have to speak up in a meeting, and I can go into my little classroom and feel comfortable presenting my information, because I’ve had practice, and I remind myself I’m here to help these people.  I’m leaps and bounds from where I was, and I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow. 

But yesterday I came to a realisation.  I had to give a presentation to a much larger group – and not just students, but other service providers.  Really Important People from across the province were coming to learn about what we did, and it was my job to represent us well.  I totally freaked out.  There were going to be twice the number of people I was used to, and the information wasn’t something I knew inside and out.  They weren’t coming in wearing jeans and hoodies, they were coming in wearing suits, armed with sophisticated haircuts and business cards.  This wasn’t my own little room, it was a big intimidating boardroom.  I was so far out of my comfort zone I panicked – and ended up asking someone else to do it.  For the first time in months I hit something too difficult.  All I’ve done so far in overcoming my anxiety has been little steps; small victories that have left me feeling that little bit more confident.  But this I couldn’t do.  

My current position is a term one that’s supposed to end in March, and the original plan was for me to go back to reception.  My thoughts: not going to happen.  Not to toot my own horn, but I can do a heck of a lot more than answer phones and make photocopies.  On top of the issue with the ergonomic factors and the back stuff I need to do throughout the day, I can’t do it.  So a few weeks ago, my wonderful boss and I had a little chat about The Future, and she told me, as long as we get funding (we’re a government-funded non-profit), there will most likely be a new position I can go into, involving all the same advertising and marketing stuff I’m doing now, as well as “more facilitation”. 

Yesterday, this got to me.  I’m incredibly grateful for everything they’ve done for me here, and I feel like since I asked for the opportunity to facilitate in the first place, I couldn’t really say I couldn’t do it.  They’re making a whole new position for me!  What sort of ungrateful cow would I be if I said I couldn’t do it?!  But I got thinking about the idea of putting people in roles that play to their strengths.  I’ve tried teaching, and though I’ve got a little bit better, it’s definitely not a strength.  I don’t think I’ll ever develop a love for being in the spotlight in front of people, and I don’t want to go to a job stressing out and being afraid to step into a classroom every day.  The experience has helped me immensely in terms of becoming more confident and less afraid, but it’s not a strength.  My strengths are in behind-the-scenes stuff.  I’m quietly opinionated and creative.  I love to write, and I love to design.  I could type for England.  I thrive in the sort of role I have now.  But I had to decide what was more important to me – proving to myself and the company that I was fully capable of being a facilitator (and forever being uncomfortable), or playing to my strengths?  

They say if you put someone in a position that doesn’t involve an inherent strength, they can learn – but they’ll never do as well as somebody who’s naturally good at it.  But if you put that person in a position that plays to their natural talents, they’ll excel.  A few months ago I heard this, and started questioning why I wanted to facilitate in the first place.  I think it was to put myself out of my comfort zone, and prove to myself I could do something I wanted to be able to so badly.  But it hasn’t developed into something I’m good at, and yesterday, my coworker and I were chatting about the importance of playing to your strengths versus proving yourself.

I started to worry, and had to email my boss asking what was meant by “more” facilitation.  What if it meant more people? Bigger classes, bigger chances to fail??  Maybe it meant “more often”.  I could deal with that – small groups, a few more times in the week would be okay.  I went home worrying about what I’d got myself into, and arrived back at the office in the morning to find an email from my boss. 

“Facilitation would be a small part of the position – and it would just be more small groups similar to what you’re doing now.  Don’t even THINK about work on your vacation!!!!”

So it looks like I’m going to get to keep the majority of my position – and the scary part doesn’t seem quite so scary after all.  If anything, it’s another small step in moving forward.  And it’s just the relief I needed before heading off next week.

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40 comments

  1. Awwww, I really enjoyed reading this. I am sure you’ll do awesome with whatever they give you, but I think it’s amazing that you’re able to do something you enjoy and are good at. You are right–going to work every day dreading your job is an awful way to live life. I can’t wait until I’m in a place where I can finally do something I love! 🙂 Have fun on vacation. 😛

    1. I’ve spent way too much of my life in jobs I don’t like – I’m really lucky I found this place because the people are just wonderful. I hope you find something you love!

  2. ahhhh….a fellow worrier… just like myself!

    I love this, not your worrying but your questioning playing to strength, I would much rather do something when i’m confident in my abilities and skills than CONSTANTLY be put into an uncomfortable situation to ‘learn’ (more like torture)… but being pushed slightly in your abilities is testing and enjoy that, so i guess lifes all about finding balance…

    1. It definitely is – I’m all for trying new things but if you don’t fall in love with those things then maybe it’s not where you’re meant to be, but at least you’ll have tried and learnt something 🙂

  3. I really liked this post! And I agree, simply by reading what you have accomplished thus far that you could do far more than a receptionist! 🙂 I am a firm believer that everyone has different talents and personalities and would do better than others in certain positions. You are very lucky to have the type of boss that you do. Good luck with your career.

    PS. I work for a non-profit too! I woudn’t trade it for the world.

    1. Thank you!! Non-profit is such a wonderful environment – I don’t think I could ever go back to working for a sales-focused corporation. I like places that do good 🙂

  4. I’m glad that this has shaken out like this. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean it motivates you, moves you, or that your passion seeps into the people you’re speaking to. It sounds like this has been a good exercise in showing yourself that you can get up and do those things, so you have that confidence, but I’m glad that the new position won’t make that you’re only focus.

    We can get used to almost anything, it doesn’t mean that all things that make us uncomfortable will help us flourish.

    1. Totally well said – I think it’s about putting your passion into things you’re good at that’ll achieve the best results, but I’m glad I (personally) experimented 🙂

  5. It’s interesting to hear a bit more about what you do! I’m so proud of you for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone; I’ve had jobs that do that too. I took on a position telerecruiting for a non-profit, mainly because I hated talking to strangers on the phone. TERRIFYING.

    I think part of finding what you do and thriving in it is also being honest with your boss about what it is you like to do versus what you’ve done to push your boundaries, and get some different experience. Maybe there’s someone else who wants to try out facilitation but thought you loved it/were so good at it that they didn’t want to step up!

    Also, hooray vacation!

    1. That’s a good thought – I know there are other people here that would flourish in more facilitational roles and I know I’ll do better from behind the scenes 🙂 And yes!! Hooray indeed!!

    1. I know!! I’ve always been scared to ask for things in my jobs, but this place is so supportive of growth and putting people in the right roles, the only downside is being on an annual government-funding set up – we never know how much money we’re going to get or if we’re going to be able to afford to keep people on for more than a year

  6. I don’t think I would be good at large-group presentations either! I think it’s true that we can get used to most anything, yet that doesn’t mean what we get used to is in our best interest. The best kind of balance is one in which you are thriving and challenged to bring your best to whatever you’re doing. I’m so glad to hear you don’t have to go back to reception and hope your new position adds goodness to your life. 🙂

  7. be careful what you ask for! my “evaluation” project in grad school was public speaking which means i had to do it in my practicum….i ended up doing an interview on NPR! ohmygosh i could sleep for days beforehand, it was awful. it went fine but why in the world did i want to focus on public speaking??? you make a good point, i’m going to let the people who excel at it do it 🙂

    1. But at least you tried!! 🙂 I’m glad I did – so at least I know what it’s like rather than forever sitting comfy and then maybe wondering if I missed out. But it’s definitely more valuable to everyone if you can enjoy what you’re doing, because being confident and actually liking it only brings more enthusiasm and talent to whatever it may be 🙂

  8. First, I’m so glad that they’re CREATING a position for you. That’s fabulous.

    And I know what you mean about just wanting to KNOW what’s going to happen so you don’t get in over your head. I’m feeling the SAME way right now at my job and I don’t feel non-stressed until what I’m worried about has been resolved/answered. So I’m really glad your boss got back to you so quickly!

    1. Oh gosh well I’m not 100% sure – we won’t know if this is all even going down until we get funding for our next fiscal year which will be in March, but it’s looking good right now. There’s still an element of “what if we don’t get enough money to keep me?” in my head though! You’ll have to tell me about your situation – sending hopeful and positive thoughts your way!

  9. I, too, am quite an anxious person and I have to say that I am so proud of you!! You are really pushing yourself and stepping outside your comfort zone and I can completely understand what an acheivement that is! 🙂

    Good luck with your upcoming position. I can’t wait to hear all about it! 🙂

  10. This is so true. I was in a leadership training program that talked about how we need to stop thinking about our weaknesses and start focusing on our strengths because you will go farther by playing to your strengths v. ‘fixing’ something that will never be a strength. So true. I have a general idea what my strengths are, but I have yet to find a position that truly capitalizes on them. I like the challenges of my current position, but I don’t feel like it’s quite the right fit… but it’s only been 3 months so maybe I will feel differently once I am more comfortable with what I am doing. I still feel like a fish out of water!

    1. Oh for sure, three months is totally still fresh waters!! You know what’s a really interesting thing to check out – the Campbell Interests & Skills survey. It’s like 400 questions and about $15 to take online but it’s VERY thorough in exploring what you’re interested in as well as what you’re good at, and going through best fits for you – let me know if you want me to send you a link?

  11. I’m not a big public speaking person either. I can but I dislike doing it. I agree its knowing about what you want to do and what your strengths are. Good luck with your new position, I am sure that you will rock it.

  12. sounds like a good deal, then 🙂

    This post made me think a bit about what I want to do and if it truly relies on my strengths. Hmmm…

    I’ve also heard the advice that if you’re doing something you are inherently good at (a God given talent), then there will be less frustrations at your work. Challenges, maybe. Frustrations no.

    1. Yes – and challenges are good; one of the biggest reasons I left my last job was because there was zero challenges – it was easy, I knew it inside out because I’d been there three years, it was well paying, but ultimately unchallenging and boring. Challenges keep us motivated to overcome them 🙂

  13. “If you never try then you’ll never knooow”

    Embrace the change EJ! I know it’s scary being shoved into the limelight but for many people it’s the best thing ever to happen to them. I suspect for you this’ll be the case.

    And yes, by all means put work OUT of your mind! But leave on this note, you’re leaving work on a POSITIVE. This is a good thing.

    1. Oh I’m not entirely sure that’s the case lol – I seem to do okay when I’m teaching small groups and I’m fully prepared and know the material, and if it’s something I believe will really help them out. I’m horrible however at standing up in front of BIG groups, or people who have jobs way higher up than me, and might ask things I don’t know – I’m horrible at thinking on my feet! I will put work out of my mind on the trip – well as much as I can; the boy is going to be checking emails for the first few days (which happen to be the first few days before his students’ exams – if he’s unavailable to help them and a parent complains, we don’t want him coming home to no job!)

  14. You know, I never thought about this in this way. You keep inspiring me, girl! I love how you’re embracing your fears and stepping out in faith to beat them.

  15. This post prompted me to think about my strengths in the workplace, and how I can potentially put them to better use. I enjoyed reading about your work and what you excel at. It helps pinpoint those abilities in myself that I never thought about having – or definitely not having.

    That is fantastic that your company is going to continue to encourage your growth and the use of your talents.

  16. Interesting! I think that is is good to sometimes push outside your comfort level to show you that can can do things you didn’t think you could, but always making sure you still have an obtainable goal. So that you push yourself, but never too much to where you can’t do it.

  17. This post really made me question what I’m naturally good at and if I’m in the right position to most effectivly challenge myself and use my strengths. You really do continue to inspire me, so glad I found your blog!

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