Recently I’ve been reminded by three separate people, that staying in a career that requires you to use your weaknesses, or simply not being able to use your strengths, can lead to depression and a serious loss of confidence.
The first example (let’s call him David) was a super confident exercise specialist when I met him in 2012 . He told me week after week of his adventurous sports competitions over weekends. He had already earned 2 Honours Degrees, a Masters Degree, and the last time I saw him for an exercise session in 2015, he’d enrolled for a PhD. He was going to go far – he had the determination, spirit and strength of an absolute winner.
I’ll never forget one story he told me. He had been preparing for a cycling event and did a practice run one weekend at a nature reserve. He heard another cyclist come up from behind, and the person overtook him. Something in David took over, and he told me the thoughts in his mind were “Hey!! Do you KNOW who I AM? You can’t just overtake me like that! I’ll show you!” and he proceeded to pull out all the stops, and of course, left the other guy behind in a trail of dust.
At the time, I WISHED for an ounce of that kind of confidence. I went home and thought – “What would I be able to do in my own business if I had a smidgeon of THAT?”
I was sad to ‘lose’ him as the person who looked after my body’s strength and abilities, when he chose a new role in a corporate environment that promised wonderful opportunities and career advancement.
About 18 months later, I ran into David again in a busy shopping centre. We had time for a 15 minute conversation and it was clear to me that his competitive, confident spirit had been crushed somewhere along the way. He was more subdued, looked down a lot more than I could remember and the exuberant “I can do it!” energy I knew, was nowhere on that day.
He mentioned that the new career he chose, required him to do reams of paperwork and he had to abide by rules and regulations, and follow interminable processes and procedures…. All things he detested, yet had no way to avoid in his current position.
It slowly sapped his energy. His confidence waned. He started hating work. His confidence waned even more…
On that day, in that short conversation, I reminded him of the story above. Of his words “Do you KNOW who I AM??” He was flabbergasted. He said, in a somewhat defeated way, “That person is gone. I don’t know where he is.”
The second person (let’s call her Erin), LOVED her work. When we did her Gallup Strengths Assessment 2 years ago, she was overjoyed to find out how her strengths were all put to incredibly good use in her role as counselor.
She had the ability and freedom to go with the flow and adapt to her clients’ needs during counselling sessions. She was fantastic and on time with her paperwork (she LOVES policies and procedures, unlike David above). She could support her clients with her gut feelings about them, and her view of the world that there is always, always a good reason for everything. She loved her work every single day.
Then, something changed. The company she worked for, had to make some hard business decisions and it impacted how she was able to conduct her client sessions. Strict new rules were put in place and she was no longer able to ‘go with the flow’ as each client needed. Her gut feelings could no longer play a role because the rules about how to conduct sessions had to be followed.
Everything changed for her. In a few short months, she started losing confidence in herself and her abilities. She was questioning her skills. “Maybe if I tried harder, I could still enjoy this? Maybe it’s my fault?”
In a short 2 or 3 months, her enjoyment of her work disappeared. She was doubting herself, her confidence waned and Monday mornings were no longer filling her with excitement about a week of flow ahead.
The third example is closer to home. My husband, who has for the past 12 years never ceased to amaze me with his can-do-attitude, courage, confidence and high energy. He started a business 12 years ago with 3 other partners, and they’ve built it up in the most amazing way through sheer grit, hard work, long hours… and he loved every minute. No setback set him back. He got up, and tried another way.
Then, things started changing. A specific project he was working on, required him to be at an office in the middle of a busy city. He had to brave the most horrendous traffic, crime, and city-filth every day. He had to abide by rules, policies and procedures that slowed down the work he so used to love. His strategic and creative ideas were no longer welcome due to business decisions on the client side.
His energy waned. He became frustrated and irritable and where I used to look forward to his arrival, honestly, I started dreading the moods that would arrive at home. He lost his zest for work, even for coming up with innovative ideas. He was depressed and wondering how on earth he would get out of the slump. He had no energy or motivation left to consider what to do about it, and soldiered on, bravely.
All three people were the same people in each of their different situations. Their skills, abilities, strengths or personalities did not magically change. What changed, was the work they were required to do, and the environment (circumstances) in which they were meant to do that.
That’s what happens, my dear friends, when we are no longer able to use our best strengths at work, or must suddenly start relying on our weak areas to produce results.
Albert Einstein wrote,
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
(Note: There is a big question mark on whether Einstein really said this – but I fully support what it’s trying to say.)
Here’s the thing. We all have activities we’re extremely strong in, and those we’re weak in. The things we’re strong in (our strengths) are usually so ‘normal’ to us, that we have no idea it’s not easy for everyone to do them.
And what we’re weak in, well…! We grow up in a society that teaches us “You should improve your weak areas!” We get sent on courses, extra classes and programs to painfully inch the “F” in maths to an “E”.
The truth is that to live a strong, enjoyable, fulfilled life, we need to capitalize on our strengths, and manage AROUND our weaknesses. We will never, ever, ever improve our weaknesses to the same level that our strengths are functioning. Yes, we CAN improve them. Slightly. With huge, determined, long-lasting effort. With very little results and enjoyment.
(Don’t believe me? I was also skeptical. It’s a proven fact, well-researched and founded in brain science. It’s because of the way our brain works. It wants to conserve energy by putting most activities on ‘automatic’ so we don’t have to use energy to think about them consciously. We all develop patterns very early on in life, and neural networks that go by default in a certain direction. More detail on all the above requires a separate article and I’ll get to it in due time.)
When we are not able to use our strengths in our daily work, and/or when we are required to use our weaker areas every single day for hours on end, it makes us feel low in energy and motivation, it drains our energy, saps our life force and makes us depressed.
I want to quote Marcus Buckingham from his book “Now, Discover your Strengths”:
“Talents have not only an “I can’t help it” quality to them but also an “it feels good” quality. Somehow nature has crafted you so that with your strongest (synaptic) connections the signals flow both ways. Your talent causes you to react in a particular way, and immediately a good feeling seems to shoot back up the T1 line. With these signals flowing smoothly back and forth, it feels as if the line is reverberating, humming. This is the feeling of using a talent.
By imbuing talents with their own built-in feedback mechanism, nature has ensured that you will keep trying to use them.”
And he continues, “Your talents, your strongest synaptic connections, are the most important raw materials for strength building. Identify your most powerful talents, hone them with skills and knowledge, and you will be well on your way to living a strong life. “
It’s not the end yet!
There is good news for the 3 special people who started losing confidence and energy.
My husband started regaining his energy and motivation as soon as he could start new projects, in a different environment, where his powerful innovative ideas, seeing a new future, and strategic thinking talents could blossom again. Where he could start learning new skills again and where he was dealing with excellence, not mediocrity, filth, traffic and crime. His talents need excellence around him to come to their full right. Working with people who are not motivated or in an environment where “tomorrow is another day” is the motto, shoots him into a downward spiral like nothing else I’ve seen.
David resigned from the job that robbed him of his confidence, a few months after we ran into each other. He started his own business and his energy, motivation, confidence and competitive streak is back. He sounds like a new person!
Erin realised that it was pointless to try and fit herself into an environment that no longer provided her the opportunity to use her strengths every day. As soon as that clarity arrived for her, other options started coming her way. She’s had a few interviews, and because she knows her Top 5 strengths, she can look for the openings where she can rely on them again, for a strong, enjoyable life.
Your Reflection Questions
Are you using your talents and strengths at work, daily? Are you capitalizing on your ‘strongest synaptic connections’? And I want to make clear that your talents and strengths are NOT your skills and knowledge. Skills and knowledge are acquired, while talents and strengths already show signs by the age of 3, and by age 16 are pretty well formed. Knowledge and skill, we generally gain AFTER that.
How would you know if you’re using your talents and strengths? Ask yourself these questions. Take time to reflect. It’s important.
- How much confidence do you have at work?
- Does work feel like a struggle every day?
- Are you comparing yourself to others and find yourself lacking all the time?
- Do you feel energetic and motivated when you think about your work?
- Do you deny your uniqueness and try to do your work like an admired colleague?
- Do you LOVE what you do, most days?
- Do you feel a sense of “I want to do that again!”,
- Or a sense of “When will this be over? I can’t stand it!”
- Do you do something extremely WELL, but you hate it and feel bored or frustrated by it?
- Do you look forward to Mondays?
- Do you breathe a sigh of relief when Fridays arrive and feel like “There is life after work”?
- When last did you hear yourself say or think “GOSH I love my work!”?
Are some of your answers concerning for you?
It’s hard to realise that perhaps that nagging feeling that you’re not in the right work environment, has substance. I have so much compassion. I’ve been through this myself and I know it’s tough. I can tell you a few of my own stories, and that’s for another article.
If you’re concerned, or even fed up, I’d love to let you know that there IS a way that this can change. You can find out what your talents and strengths are, and build your career around that. Whether you have your own business or are employed – work can be FUN, enjoyable and fill you with energy and motivation.
I’m not saying it’s an overnight thing, or that you can walk into work you love tomorrow. Things that are worthwhile take time to figure out and adjust.
For the months of June and July 2017, I have a special offer for you to connect with your OWN strengths!
I’m offering 2 options and for the next 2 months depending on availability, both offer a juicy discount. The perfect option for you will depend on what you need to gain. We’ll have you do an Assessment of about 40 minutes, and then dive into the meaty and wonderful work of exploring your talents and strengths. Both options include the Gallup assessment fee.
You can choose either:
The Top 5 Confidence Kick-Start (1 awesome session of 2 hours)
You’ll get to know your Top 5 talents. We’ll discuss them in-depth and help you to see where you’re already using them in your life and work. Your eyes will light up as you realise that your talents are literally EVERYWHERE… and that what is easily for you, is not easy for someone else. And THAT is what you need to get paid for. The stuff that’s easy for you. That’s where you add the most value. You’ll find out how unique you are, gain awesome insights into yourself and your work, breathe HUGE sighs of relief, and discover how beautifully you’ve been put together. It’ll kick-start your confidence and build a beautiful foundation for future work activities.
The Full 34 Confidence Journey (4 sessions of 75 minutes)
You’ll get to know all of your 34 Gallup talents. Some of them are your ‘strongest synaptic connections’ that are extremely easy for you, and others will most definitely drain you. You’ll discover where you’ve been using your strengths, or mistakenly woven your work around a weakness (which can lead to exhaustion, depression, low energy and a host of other health issues). You might have built painful beliefs around some of your traits because you received negative labels about them in childhood. We’ll clear out some of those if necessary, so you can build your life on your TRUE strengths, and not what others dumped on you out of ignorance. You’ll gain incredible confidence, love your uniqueness, let go of self-blame and self-criticism, and of any “I SHOULD be able to do this even though I hate it.”
There is obviously more time to explore and dive into deep details in the Full 34 package. It provides a well-rounded option for you to see yourself in a totally new and positive light. It’s hard to describe the confidence, trust in yourself, and relief it brings.
If you’re not sure which to select, or to inquire about the fees, complete this short questionnaire and I’ll get right back to you!