You would think that we all know what our gifts and talents are and use them, but sadly, we don’t. I’ll tell you some ways to discover your particular gifts and talents in a minute.
I suspect many of us have developed skills because we needed them in a job. Indeed, we may have even become good something even though it wasn’t necessarily a reflection of our gifts. I became good at leading committees, but it is not among my gifts. Leading others was a skill I needed on the job.
Gifts and talents need to be developed, and as a society we are not very good at it. Schools build and reward academic achievement such as acquiring knowledge, reading, writing, and mathematical skills. They aren’t designed to find and nurture the individual gifts and talents of students. Some teachers are really good at seeing a child’s potential, but as class sizes increase and curriculum demands include more one-size-fits-all standards, it is difficult to focus on each child’s gifts.
Oh sure, sometimes a gift jumps out and demands acknowledgement. Think of the amazing ten year old violinist, or the child who recognizes patterns in math and solves complex problems at an early age. When I was in college, there was a twelve year old in my U.S. history class. He asked brilliant questions and clearly deserved to be there. Those examples are the exceptions rather than the rule.
What about the child who is a gifted vocalist, living in a family that does not understand or appreciate music? She might be noticed by a teacher, but she also might shyly sit in the back and not sing out.
As parents, we try to see and bring out our children’s gifts and talents, but our potential to do that is limited to our understanding of different fields. As an educator, I had no problem fostering my daughter’s academic development, but as they played with Legos and building blocks would I have recognized their gift of spatial awareness or their potential in engineering or architecture?
As a society, we are quick to label and offer suggestions for careers. If you love pets, you should be a veterinarian. Maybe so, but if you look a little deeper you will find many options. Perhaps what you love about pets is the nurturing aspect of caring for them. You might be gifted at nursing, caring for the elderly or teaching. Is it romping outdoors with the dog that you love? Maybe a career involving nature is the right fit. The child who loves nothing more than sitting with her cat quietly on her lap might be an introvert whose real skill is introspection and reflection.
The adults who seem happiest have found the profession that suits their natural gifts and talents. I think of my friend Jane. She is a socially gifted teacher who can speak easily with anyone. She used to joke that when she grew up she wanted to be a Walmart greeter. She would have been wonderful at it. She is happily working in women’s ministry and working with parents as a school liaison. She uses her gift for communicating with others every day and she shines.
In contrast, I knew a Walmart greeter who was miserable. Painfully shy and introverted, she no doubt attracted attention of hiring people because she is extremely competent and conscientious. She would do any job to the best of her ability. You could count on her to show up on time and attend to the details. She should have been in the business office- there would be no financial errors on her watch.
Do you really know what your gifts and talents are? Here are some ways to find out:
Ask yourself the following questions:
What did you love to do as a child? Why?
What do you love to do now? Why?
What energizes you? What depletes your energy?
What things do others ask you to help them with?
What about you do others notice and comment on?
The answers to these questions can be insightful. For example, I love genealogy. When I ask myself why, it is because I love finding the stories of the past. I love stories. A woman in my business book group loves genealogy because she loves putting the timeline together. For her it is a puzzle to analyze, and she loves analyzing. Telling stories and analyzing timelines are different gifts.
Look at Personality Tests
Chances are at some point you have taken the Myers Briggs or the DISC personality profile. Go back and look at your results. If you haven’t taken those kinds of tests or no longer have the results, here are some other free options:
A Modified Myers Briggs Test (via Quistic, Penelope Trunk):
The Fascination Test: Discover how the world sees you (via Sally Hogshead):
Born For This Quiz (via Chris Guillebeau)
Strengthfinders by Tom Rath
You will have to buy this book, which includes a personality test and analysis. Don’t make the mistake I did and buy a used copy, you will need a new copy with the access code to get your analysis.
Knowing our gifts and talents is the first step towards designing our lives around doing what we love, what we are good at and that makes us happy. You may not be able to leave your career as I did, but chances are that you can make some shifts to rearrange your job and your life to better align with your gifts and talents.
The reward is a life that makes you happy and leaves you feeling fulfilled. It is a life well lived, and we deserve to live in the light of what makes us special.
What are your gifts and talents? Are you using them? Why or why not? I would love to know more!