“Know what you’re the best at; go where you can shine.”
That is one of my favorite pieces of career advice, especially good for anyone who’s just starting in a field. Or perhaps you prefer this approach: “Play to your strengths.”
Those two pieces of smart advice can ignite your career, taking it from a struggling flicker of flame to a huge roaring bonfire, big enough for a dozen people to toast their toes or their marshmallows.
When you use your strengths, you are likely to light up the room and succeed. And you also may feel happier, more energetic and productive, according to a new survey by Gallup.
People who use their strengths for seven or more hours a day are far more likely to say they have enough energy to get things done, compared to those who used their strengths for three or fewer hours. In fact, the more time they say they use their strengths each day, the more likely they are to report being happy, learning something interesting and smiling or laughing a lot, the Gallup survey found.
And stress? Half the people who use their strengths for zero to three hours a day say they experienced it yesterday, compared to about one-third of those who use their strengths most hours.
The Gallup phone survey contacted 5,049 adults; it found that 43 percent of Americans spend seven or more hours a day using their best skills and attributes – though for women that rose to 47 percent. Besides polling, Gallup offers the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment tool and strengths coaching seminars and tools.
Why does using your strengths send stress flying and happiness rising? “They tend to be doing things where when you’re doing them, you feel more energized, more interested in what you’re doing,” said Jim Asplund, Gallup’s chief scientist in the strengths-based development area. A loop develops – you do things where you excel and get positive feedback, so your self-image improves. The work seems easy and even joyful. You feel more connected to work and may even build more rapport with your colleagues, Asplund said. “You feel a sense of ownership of the work.”
Women are more likely to use their strengths for more hours a day than men, the Gallup poll found, and a few people said they use their strengths 24 hours a day – even in their sleep! The unemployed were the least likely to use their strengths, Asplund noted.
So here’s a few ways we can fire up our strengths at work:
1. Write them down. If you cannot come up with a good list, consider what bosses have told you in the past. Ask others about your best attributes, suggests Larina Kase, a motivational speaker and coach from Philadelphia who runs a blog on building confidence in children. If you’re still looking for your strengths, look back to a very challenging project or moment and visualize what internal resources you relied on – and write those down.
2. Super-size your strengths. Even if you have an amazing ability to spot and develop talent or design a wonderful user interface, you could still grow those skills. Focus on expanding your core talents. Read blogs by the best of the best; go to conferences and seminars to really light your strengths on fire.
3. Expand your ratios. Most jobs will contain a mix of tasks – some that play to your strengths and others that you can barely stand to do. Find a way to increase that ratio toward your best and talk to your boss about how this will make you more energized. Simply by knowing your key strengths, you may become 8 to 12 percent more productive, Gallup research shows, and using your strengths could increase it even more as well as add to your self-confidence and reduce the chances that you’ll be talking to a recruiter anytime soon.
So fire up your strengths, and bask in the warmth of happiness and success.