WHAT are my natural talents? What can I do better than most? Which activities put me in the best position to excel?
These are not the questions we usually bother about. Instead, most of us define ourselves by our qualifications and past experience, and bank on these two planks to keep our career afloat.
But qualifications, which do play an important role early in our career, take a back seat as we progress up the corporate ladder. Promotions come your way because you perform well, or show good leadership skills — not because you have just earned your Master of Business Administration degree (MBA).
And having too much experience is no guarantee of employability. It can sometimes be a liability in a market where employers prefer younger, cheaper employees, or value the depth and breadth of one’s skills more than the length of one’s experience.
When charting their “career journey” based solely on qualifications and experience, many people start to feel as if they have become a commodity with progressively depreciating value. And they wonder what their real competitive advantage is in this highly competitive world.
But what if you are sitting on a hidden asset that, if developed and used more often, can be the most solid foundation for building up your career — your natural talents?
Your in-born talents are activities that you are poised to do well— naturally. And the chances are that you have already used your natural talents before. If you pay attention to the following three clues, you can figure them out:
If someone has paid you a compliment in the past, chances are that you did something really well, while using your natural talents.
Recall seven memorable instances when a colleague, boss, client or friend complimented you on something and dissect each compliment as in the following example.
Who complimented you?
Head of R&D of the company XYZ.
What did he/she compliment you for?
Conducting a half-day workshop on innovation.
State the precise compliment (verbal or written) if you remember?
“We really enjoyed your training programme. It was well-structured, relevant to our business and inspiring.”
What did you specifically do? (Underline key activities.)
• Conducted research on innovation and company XYZ’s activities.
• Conceptualised, wrote and edited workshop materials (hand-outs and PowerPoint slides).
• Conducted the workshop.
After dissecting the seven compliments, review if there are certain activities that repeatedly appear in your compliments. These could be your talents!
Like compliments, your achievements too hold vital clues to your natural talents. Pick seven achievements from your life that you are most proud of and dissect each like in the following example:
What’s the achievement?
I successfully delivered a half-day workshop on problem-solving skills to air-conditioning engineers at Mumbai.
Why do you feel proud of this achievement?
It was a complex subject. I felt good about my work and audience feedback was also good.
List three challenges/obstacles involved:
• Very tight schedule considering the volume and complexity of the work.
• Highly experienced professionals in the audience, requiring extraordinary research and preparation on my part.
• Lack of availability of solid information on the subject.
List below five to seven actions you took to produce the achievement. (Underline the key activities.)
• Prepared a project plan with a clear deadline for the submission of workshop materials.
• Did extensive research through the Internet, books and by consulting experienced colleagues.
• Wrote, edited and produced a comprehensive training manual and created PowerPoint slides.
• Visualised the positive outcome.
• Practised my presentation.
• Conducted the workshop.
After dissecting all seven achievements, step back and ask: Are there activities that are common to many of my achievements? If yes, these could be your natural talents.
Like compliments and achievements, your voluntary activities can also help you uncover your natural talents, which are like balloons under water: they can’t be suppressed. They may have nudged you to engage in certain voluntary activities.
If you ever volunteered to do certain activities, however small, without any expectations, list them. For example: “I have gladly volunteered to write and edit my friends’ resumés, and have also given them advice.”
After listing all your voluntary activities, spot the actions that are repeated. These could well be your natural talents.
Finally, look at the actions listed under all three clues — compliments, achievements and voluntary activities — and you may find one or two or three actions that show up again and again. What else could they be but your natural talents?
African-American poet laureate and writer Maya Angelou said: “I believe that every person is born with talent.” It is time you discovered yours.
Article by Atul Mathur, who is an engineer, a technical writer and an ACTA certified trainer.