How to Find a Fulfilling Career by Working from Your Strengths and Values
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”
― Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching
There isn’t a single formula for success in any field – some people succeed easily while others have to struggle to find their own groove. From my own experience and from coaching others, I have found that the key to bringing out your best is to know your core values and use your strengths.
This way even when you are struggling with your business or career, you are motivated to continue instead of giving up. Knowing your strengths and values allow you to make better choices when opportunities come along.
But what exactly are strengths and values? And more importantly, how can you combine your strengths and values to create a life that is meaningful and full of abundance for you and the people you surround yourself with?
Strengths are What Energises You
In his book Strengths Finder 2.0 Tom Rath describes strengths as – to paraphrase him – abilities that energise you when you use them. This is a view I subscribe to.
Notice I didn’t say that strengths are what you’re good at. We can very well be good at things that exhaust us when we do them.
By applying more of our strengths (abilities that energise us) in our businesses, we will experience abundant energy, higher creativity and intuition.
How Working from My Strengths Energise Me
Two of my strengths are: 1) being able to learn from any sources and 2) being able to synthesise information I receive.
This allows me to easily synthesise and present the information I learn from observation, media, books and lectures as a coherent whole.
When I apply these strengths to the teaching and training services I provide, I find that I can go for great lengths of time with very little rest in between and still be totally charged up by the end of class.
High Energy is The Result of Applying Your Strengths
Wouldn’t it better if you could feel high energy (instead of low energy) more often when you are at work? After all, you spend at least eight hours doing work related tasks!
I am rarely tired teaching but as a contrast, doing paperwork (something I’m good at but not my strength) really wears me down.
‘But How Do I Know What My Strengths Are?’
So how do you figure out your strengths? While there’s a test you can take to find out (I’ll be listing the website to take the Strengths Finder test later in this article), let me suggest some ways you can begin to explore your strengths.
Start by paying attention to your days. Which activities leave you feeling better after you’ve done them? and which drain you?
Do you enjoy working alone or with others?
Do you feel energized conceptualizing or working out the details?
Do you like maximizing, finding, or creating opportunities?
Are you more intellectual or action oriented?
Are you naturally able to anticipate challenges?
The list can go on and on, but the key is this: rather than accept that we have to do as others do, reflect on your life. What do you always enjoy and look forward to? As a child, what were some of your favorite activities?
For me, I was always fascinated by learning and could explain complex ideas in simple ways to my friends.
Values (or The Why Behind What You Do)
Now, let’s look at values.
Simon Sinek, author of the leadership book Start with Why and speaker of the popular TED talk with the same name, says that we need to be clear on the reason behind why we chose something before deciding on what to do or how to do it.
Yet if we took an honest look at our work and personal lives, we often fall into the trap of worrying about what to do first rather than asking why we’re doing it. Not being clear on the reason why we do something can make decisions down the road more time-consuming than necessary.
How Does This Apply to Us Individually?
All of us have ‘whys’ that guide us and it affects the choices we make and how we feel about the choices other people make.
For instance, one person may feel it is important that they provide for their family first before making improvements in their personal life. In this case if they had to choose to work longer hours to support their family, they would.
These ‘whys’ reflect our values – the deeply held principles and beliefs we have about what is important to us.
Many of our values are unconscious – we don’t know what is important to us until we are faced with a situation that either motivates us or upsets us.
Think of the last big disagreement you had with someone. It was most likely because they violated something you felt was important to you, or, in other words, they had violated your values.
Say, for example, that you find out about a colleague who did something illegal to get ahead in his work. If you highly value fairness, you will get upset. Your colleague, on the other hand, may not even understand why you got upset. In this case, getting the best things for herself may be more valuable to her than fairness.
How I Use My Own Values to Make Decisions
My values are mainly about personal growth, intimate connection, and learning. So I find myself easily motivated to join or lead projects involving these values such as developing training and coaching methods for young graduates.
I am demotivated by projects that are only financial or task targeted. This is one reason I write for Entreprenuer Campfire, as it allows me to fulfill my values of learning and connection.
I also get upset when people try to limit others growth, so I tend to fight for peoples’ rights to have access to education and resources.
Find Out What You Value Most
So how can you figure out your values? Again like the strengths list I will be giving some websites that can assist you discover your values later in this article, but you can start by asking yourself:
Who do you admire? What characteristics and values do they portray?
What makes you really upset? What is the value you feel is being violated when you get upset?
What allowed you to go through adversity? How did you go through your painful moments in life?
If this was an ideal world, all people should ___________. By completing this sentence you would get a better idea of your key values.
How to Combine Strengths and Values for a Meaningful Life
Now, how do you put Strengths and Values together to achieve a more meaningful and abundant life?
Knowing your own core values allows you to have clarity of the ‘Why’ of your life and business. This is critical as you will have to make many decisions on the direction of your life and career, and if you choose ventures more aligned with your values, you are more likely to be able to unleash your inner energies and motivations.
Similarly, knowing your strengths allows you to choose projects that you can apply your strengths easily and stay in high energy or to adjust your existing projects to apply your strengths.
Once you begin to live your values more consistently and use your strengths daily, you’ll find that you feel more fulfilled and energized.
Often we are unmotivated as we aren’t living our values and we feel tired as we are not applying our strengths. Higher courage in living our values allows us to speak out more compassionately and work better with our partners.
I know this process really works as I have coached several people to get higher clarity through an understanding of their strengths and values. They found that once they had clarity, they attracted opportunities and funds that allowed them to feel more courageous and determined.
In fact this is one form of leadership. True leadership begins with self-leadership, in having a clear idea where we wish to lead our lives.
Conclusion: Your First Three Steps
To summarize, these are the steps I would recommend to discover your strengths and values as well as apply them in your life. Bear in mind, this is a lifetime journey as in actuality the greatest mystery we face in life, is ourselves, and as your understand yourself better, you will create more opportunities.
Step 1: Discover your top 5 strengths
Go to http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx and purchase the strengths finder test. I recommend the Top 5 Strengths test which will cost you USD 9.99 as a start.
Step 2: Do a values inventory by reading through the list by Steve Pavlina
Go to http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm or the exercises by mindtools at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm.
Take your time to feel which of the values resonate with you. Don’t choose something just because it feels popular but choose one that you feel is critical to you.
Step 3: Starting today do the following
Choose to apply your strengths in what you are already committed to, even by changing the scope of the project to use your strengths.
For upcoming projects, volunteer yourself for those which apply your strengths.
Ensure that you are living your values, if you can’t express them in one arena of life such as work; find another area, such as in NGO’s or social activities.
It is my intention that by reading and applying what I’ve shared in this article that you can live a fulfilled and meaningful life. As Sun Tzu said in the Art of War,
“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories“.
Till we meet again, Live Your Values and Use Your Strengths!
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