Finding My Strengths: The Book That Gave Me the Courage to Go After My Dream Job

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius … by Brittany Sheehan
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Have you ever been sitting at your cubicle, realizing that the task in front of you is making you miserable, and wondered how you got there? I have, many times over the last few years. On the upside, I was aware that I was unhappy and started making attempts to change jobs, but for all the wrong reasons. I started going on interviews for positions that were exactly the same (or very similar) to what I was already doing – just at different companies. It was easier for me to pinpoint aspects of my current role “There isn’t much room for growth” or “My boss micromanages me”, then to address the real issue – the work I was doing wasn’t engaging and challenging me. The more interviews I went on, the more frustrated I became. Why wasn’t anything grabbing my attention? These jobs all looked great on paper.

It was then that I picked up a copy of Tom Rath’s book, Strengthsfinder 2.0 and started to read. A paragraph on the first page immediately jumped out at me: All else equal (including who your boss is, what you’re paid, and how long your commute is), you are never truly happy and engaged in your job unless you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day. Rath’s research indicates that people who do have the opportunity to do what they do best every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an overall excellent quality of life.

Instead of developing our strengths, we devote the majority of our time to fixing our shortcomings. It starts when we’re kids – we were always told, you can be whatever you want to be, it just takes hard work and focus! Well despite the countless preteen hours I devoted to the balance beam in my garage, in reality, I was never going to be the next Mary Lou Retton. Not that I fault any parent or coach for encouraging kids to follow their dreams – years of competitive gymnastics taught me time management skills, work ethic, teamwork, and leadership, among other things. But when it comes to a career, we are selling ourselves short, and making ourselves needlessly unhappy, if we fail to seek out positions that let us excel at our strengths.

Rath’s method for discovering strengths includes a 30 minute test where you must identify on a scale which of 2 statements you most identify with (i.e. – ‘Meeting new people makes me feel anxious’ versus  ‘Meeting new people makes me feel energized’) and produces a list of your 5 ‘Core Strengths’ with examples of what people with these strengths are like, and what career paths might be ideal for them.  I bought the book, went home to take the test, and was dumbfounded by the results. All 5 of the Strengths the test identified sounded exactly like me, and made me realize the job that I was struggling to find happiness in wasn’t letting me do any of the things I’m good at on a daily basis:

Communication: You are articulate and delight in the spoken word; You give detailed explanations of ideas so others can comprehend them.

Woo:  You really enjoy being the first person to talk with newcomers, strangers and outsiders.

Developer: You are willing to share what you know and inspire people to try new things.

Positivity:  You identify common ground, offer compliments, and ask non-threatening questions.

Activator: You typically take the lead; You excel in launching new projects and assignments.

I sat stunned for a few minutes, wondering why it had taken me so long to realize what I needed to do. Once I’d digested the results, I immediately logged on to LinkedIn and started thinking about what kind of job I would excel in – clearly, I needed to be doing something where I’m talking a lot (Communication), meeting lots of new people (Woo), managing people (Developer), working in an up-beat, encouraging environment (Positivity) and am able to be in control of my own success (Activator). A light bulb went off and I knew just what job I was going to apply for. Two weeks after sending my application in, I was preparing to stand in front of a team of employees (including one of the founders) for my final interview – a mock pitch of their business model.

I spent literally every waking hour of the weekend leading up to the interview preparing. I read every article I could find about the company, the industry, and their clients. I grilled my friends for their opinions and insights, and forced my poor boyfriend to sit through countless run-throughs of my pitch. I was incredibly energized. As I sat at my computer that Sunday night running through my final notes, I realized I had never worked remotely this hard to prepare for any other interview – and I had never been happier. I had found work that I knew would challenge me to excel at the things I’m good at. Two days later, I found out I had gotten the job!

Now I don’t presume that everyone who takes the StrengthsFinder test will have such an immediate epiphany and career change like I did. But I do think it’s a powerful tool to have validated in writing what innate skills you possess, and how you can use them to make your career a fulfilling and engaging one. If you’re lucky, your test results may reveal you are already doing the things that make you happy every day. If not, maybe you’ll realize you’re ready to go after that dream job, once and for all.

You can buy StrengthsFinder 2.0 Here.

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One thought on “Finding My Strengths: The Book That Gave Me the Courage to Go After My Dream Job

  1. Dad West
    October 23, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Brit,
    Best of Luck. We love you and there is always room at the West home for you!

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