I’m always surprised by how many people say, “I don’t know what I’m good at.” This has a lot to do with doubt and fear, but it also has to do with the possibility that they might not be looking in the right places.
Maybe they enjoyed doing something as a kid but wrote it off as silly or were discouraged from pursuing it. Maybe they’ve always been pushed to go into the medical field when they really have a talent for cooking. As a result, they feel like they don’t have a clear direction on what they’re supposed to be doing in life.
Does that sound familiar to you? If so, or if you just want some tips for zeroing in on your strengths, here’s how to start figuring out what you’re good at.
Why It’s Important to Know Your Strengths
Meaningful, fulfilling work happens when you use your talent (what you do best) to perform your passion (what you love to do most) to achieve your mission (the results that matter deeply to you). You need all three ingredients—talent, passion and mission—in order to find work that helps you make an income and an impact. That’s how you start doing what you were created to do!
So, right now, let’s focus on that first part—talent. Talent comes first in the trio because it’s a key part of workplace success. These are the basics of what you bring to the table at any job, including personal strengths, trained skills and natural skills. They can be hard skills, like writing, coding, math, design or project management, or they can be soft skills, like reliability, collaboration or humor.
The more you know and understand your own talents, the more clarity you’ll have in your career, and the closer you’ll be to finding work you’re excited about.
7 Questions to Help You Find What You’re Good At
If you’re not sure what your top talents are, here are some questions that can help you get specific.
1. What were my best subjects or activities in school?
Were you a piano prodigy? A great speller? Were you the kid who was always helping someone out? Did you have a flair for the dramatic? Were you on the quiet side but always ready to listen and offer encouragement? All of these are clues that can point you toward your natural talent.
2. What kind of work comes easily to me?
Maybe it’s caring for your pets or organizing your house. Maybe it’s fixing cars or keeping a garden alive and thriving. Whatever it is, don’t judge the skill or underestimate the potential it has. You might think a particular skill isn’t a big deal, but maybe you haven’t thought about all the ways that skill could transfer to the workplace.
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3. What do people compliment me on?
Have you noticed any patterns in the comments or compliments you get from others? These could be simple or detailed, deep or surface level. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about your grandma saying you should be a model or your proud dad telling you that you could be the president one day. All of that has its value, but you should also pay attention to compliments you get from people who don’t already think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Maybe people have complimented you on your positive attitude, your ability to stay laser-focused on the task at hand, or other skills that transfer really well to the workplace.
4. What are my strongest personality traits?
Don’t be humble with this question! I’m serious—sometimes you have to give yourself a pat on the back and be confident in the strengths you know you have. If you have trouble with this, ask for feedback.
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We sometimes think of feedback as a negative or intimidating thing, but it can also be an encouraging way to learn about our strong points. Ask friends, coworkers or other people you trust what they think your three strongest personality traits are and genuinely listen to their answers. You might find out you have some great traits that you wouldn’t have seen on your own.
5. Which skill set do I gravitate toward?
Are you better with people, manual labor or data? Skill sets tend to fall into these three areas (though there are other areas, and it’s possible to be good at more than one).
Some people would rather talk to customers on the phone than make a spreadsheet, but for others, picking up the phone is their worst nightmare. Some people like to make or fix things, while others are happiest crunching numbers at their desk. One’s not better than the other, so take time to think about which one of these categories—if any—resonates with you.
6. When I’m part of a team project, what’s usually my role?
Group projects—everyone’s favorite, right? Love ’em or hate ’em, they can tell you a lot about your strengths and the kinds of roles you naturally fall into.
Maybe you usually like to plan and schedule the team meetings, take charge, give the group a clear vision, share your creative ideas, take notes, or mediate if things get heated. Maybe setting goals and creating the timeline is more your speed. Take stock of the past few team projects you’ve done to see if there’s been a pattern.
7. What kind of training or experience do I already have?
Even if you don’t have a degree in a certain subject, and even if you haven’t had a certain kind of job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any experience in that area. Remember that classes, certifications, trainings, internships, freelance work or just doing something because you enjoy it counts as experience.
For example, let’s say you were interested in becoming an event planner. Maybe you’ve never had any education or paid work in event planning before, but you’ve hosted plenty of dinners, been the best man or maid of honor for a couple of friends, and planned five years’ worth of birthday parties for your kids. That sounds like event planning experience to me! You could then take a course in event planning and start building a portfolio from there. But remember, you don’t need a degree in order to be talented at something. You just have to spend time doing it.
Keep Looking for What You’re Good At
It can be really helpful to write down your answers to these questions as you’re thinking through them. I’m a fan of making lists of all your strengths—that way, you’ll be able to compare them with your passion and mission and look for a job that lines up with all three elements. This is an important part of getting clear and moving forward on the path toward meaningful work. Next challenge: identifying your passions.