What are your strengths?

What are your strengths? Blue sky filled with colourful hot air balloons

A while back I had a wonderful gift coaching session with a young lady (wow, that makes me feel old). We were focussing on beginning the discovery of her values, strengths, skills and motivators through what I like to call a storytelling session.

In this session, a client and I work together to unpack achievements, significant events that have shaped them and the things they like about themselves.

There was a particular point where she was talking through some examples of where things had gone wrong. She then asked why the exercises seemed to focus more on strengths than failures. The exercises do ask about difficulties, lows and lessons but never hone in on unpacking a failure. So why is that?

Here is my (now polished) answer:

I will sometimes just mention strengths but you can assume this could easily be skills, values and motivators too.

Focussing on strengths boosts self-esteem.

Let’s start with the feel good factor! 

Walking away from a discussion about all the positive qualities that you demonstrate will boost you. When you don’t know what to do next in life, there can be an undercurrent of fear and anxiety and we want to make sure we bring out what I call the hidden treasure early on as it serves as a motivator to carry on the journey of discovery. It gives you a first glimpse of what might be possible with all the strengths you have.  It gives you hope.

We want to unearth what you have, not what you don’t.

Much of our self-appraisal hones in on where we need to develop; we compare ourselves to job specs, colleagues, friends, what’s missing from our knowledge, experience and education. Even when we do stop and evaluate our achievements, we don’t hang about in this territory for long and we don’t often see all the attributes we have that show up time and time again through our life and work.

Spending just one hour, such as we did in this coaching session, I identified over 40 attributes the client had that were contenders for values, skills, strengths and motivators….and this is not uncommon!

Remember, this journey to figuring out what to do next in life is about finding what fits you, not how you should continue to contort yourself to what you think is required, so we need to start with finding out about you, the REAL you. 

Later down the road when you have chosen where you want to put your time and energy THEN we look at what you may not have and identify how to plug the gaps.  Approaching it this way opens up your possibilities.  We want your world to expand, not contract!

There are strengths in the failures.

As I listened to the examples of the failures explained by my client I could identify some of her strengths, skills, values and motivators in the midst of what didn’t work. They may not have been mentioned explicitly but the resilience, the self-awareness, the organisation, the determination, the work ethic and discipline all shone through.

Maybe she hadn’t seen these because not achieving a goal must mean she didn’t have the right skills or they weren’t good enough, right?  


It’s more likely that the environment, the set-up of the work, maybe even the type of work was not entirely suited to her strengths.  She was hampered from the beginning.

Where is your energy going?

When you operate in the zone where your strengths, skills, values and motivators are, the output – the results (emotional, intellectual, practical etc) – is far greater than when operating outside this zone.

However, I suspect for many people, much more energy is given to the skills and knowledge shouting for attention outside the zone – the weaknesses and gaps – than the strengths inside the zone. This can lead to feeling drained, unsuccessful, unfulfilled and worn out.  The list goes on.

Imagine what would happen if you could expend 70-80% of your energy inside your zone?

You will get a much greater return than spending the same amount of time on your weaknesses and gaps.  

Of course, you need to give some attention to weaknesses and gaps, but probably not as much as you think.

I would like to suggest using 20-30% of your energy outside your zone, be it learning, practising or talking to someone who has the strength you have identified you need. Find support from outside yourself to take the pressure off – you don’t have to become the expert.

Note to perfectionists: this can be hard as it can feel like you’re cheating but give yourself a free pass for the week and see what happens – experiment!

How to focus on your strengths.

First you need to understand your strengths, skills, values and motivators. An easy way to do this is to ask your friends, family and colleagues for an audit. Ask them to list out what they see in you. Then notice which of the observations you are aware of and which come as a surprise – can you think of why certain strengths have been recognised? 

Hint: we often don’t see what comes easily to us!

Try asking yourself the following questions to begin getting used to the idea of focussing on your strengths:

  • Are there any strengths, skills, values and motivators you can identify and add to your list?
  • Which strength would you like to focus on in the coming week?
  • Which ‘weakness/gap’ would you like to get creative with?
  • What could happen if, instead of beating your weaknesses with the stick of improvement, you try putting that energy into your zone of strengths? 

Go forth and play in your zone of strengths for 70-80% of the time this week and notice what becomes possible for you.

Have fun!

Photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash.