Fact: Successful people focus on their strengths. Marianne Cantwell takes a closer look at why the concept of 'hard work' could be holding you back from finding your perfect career.
Beethoven was a failure.
His career as a legal secretary never took off. He was ok at it, but not the best in the world. Every Monday morning was a struggle. But he couldn’t quit. He’d worked hard for years to get there. Sure, it wasn’t his calling, but it was all right. Another day another dollar, right?
Of course, that’s not true.
Beethoven was known for his musical talents – but what if he was born in another family or era and if he never focused on those skills? He’d most likely have been another average guy doing a mediocre job in an unsatisfied way.
People are successful for a reason – a pretty simple one. They're really good at something. And they do it. Because they’re really good at it, they do it better than anyone else. They stand out. It might be a skill, an approach, whatever, but they stick to it and it pays off. What’s more, they love it.
So why aren’t we all tapping into what we’re ‘outstandingly’ good at and happily doing it? In my experience, it all comes back to two things:
The myth of ‘hard’
From a young age we are told a great big lie: “If it feels good it’s probably bad for you.” Another variation is “Nothing worth doing was ever easy.” Or “If it tastes bad, it’s good for you.”
In our Anglo-Saxon-Protestant psychology, things that feel hard, uncomfortable, challenging are thought to be good. For example, we associate healthy lifestyles with blandness and discipline, so, unlike in other cultures, a healthy diet is harsh and about denial.
Now, I'm going to say one thing that is vital to understand if you are going to achieve your ideal career: Easy Is Good.
Don’t get me wrong, easy is not the same as lazy. It’s not about avoiding work. Easy is that feeling when you do something and feel energised, time flies, and whatever you’re doing definitely doesn’t feel like work. It’s something you’d do for free and you love it.
The things you're best at are those you find easiest. For me that feeling comes when I'm writing or speaking in front of audiences (yes, I know, that’s weird). For others it comes when analysing a complex piece of data (no, really). For others it comes when combining colours to make a room perfect.
Whatever that ideal ‘easy’ thing is for you, here’s a clue: you probably can’t think of it right now. You're likely to be thinking about the things you've worked really hard to get ‘good’ at but still don’t enjoy.
If that's the case, why can’t you think of that thing that is easy and ‘joyful’ for you? Here’s why:
The dominance of ‘average’
Richard Branson is an awful organiser. He couldn’t be a finisher-completer to save his life… hey a new idea! Oh yes, and he flits on to a new idea before finishing the last… ooh, a new airline! You get the picture: he’s not going to be a world-class PA anytime soon.
But here’s his secret: Richard Branson doesn’t try to be the most organised kid on the block. He doesn’t try to be a finisher-completer. He knows that he could do those things, but he would be average at them. Instead, he put himself in an environment where what he DOES do best (get great ideas, think big-picture, and be a marketing genius, among other things) is what he does most of the time. As we all know, he does these very, very well.
This approach of focusing on our strengths and only ‘managing’ our weaknesses is one most of us don’t take.
At school, the aim was to get you up to average. You got tuition for your weaker subjects. Your focus was getting those Cs to Bs and Bs to As. Your weaknesses were combated – but what happened to your strengths? Not much.
This may be the way to a neat report card at school, but it's not the way to happiness or success in the real world. Here, most people stick in ‘school mode’ for the rest of their career. They waste time and energy lamenting their weaknesses, trying to improve them and letting their strengths slide by in the meantime.
Successful people don’t ever allow themselves to be in an environment where their strengths don’t take centre stage.
If Richard Branson hadn’t been brave enough to toss out our society’s work ethic and obsession with ‘getting up to average’ he would have most likely had a mediocre career being totally scatty in an office. His boss would have written ‘development points’ about his lack of focus and organisation. He would have felt frustrated and constrained about the need to do things by the book. He probably wouldn’t own his own island.
(Note: This isn’t a recipe for turning into Richard Branson or Beethoven overnight, but it'll probably mean that Monday mornings feel a whole lot better.)
So, three questions for you:
- What could you do if you focussed on what makes you ‘great’?
- What would happen if you spent time identifying and developing what comes easily and naturally to you?
- What would happen if you stopped berating yourself for not being ‘good enough’ at other things?