We need to play to our strengths

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Too many of spend to much time looking at what we think is wrong with us and not enough on what we can do, right now.

copyright derekskey (creative commons)

I have been thinking about someone who was one of the most influential and successful people of the 20th century.

Did you guess Steve Jobs? There are no prizes, but you're right. He died at the age of just 56 last October and was, among other things, the co-founder and CEO of Apple Computers.

Steve's career had a somewhat inauspicious start when he dropped out of university after six months. "I couldn't see the value in it," he said. "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out." Years later he asserted that it was one of the best decisions he ever made. "The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting," he explains.

His interest in computing comes as no surprise, and one way he used his new-found freedom was to join an early computer hobbyist users' group in Silicon Valley. Some of those with whom he exchanged ideas later became co-founders with him of Apple Inc.

Another class he "dropped in on" was calligraphy. He found the subject fascinating, and it left him wanting to discover what makes 'great' typography great. Ten years later, he incorporated this knowledge into the Mac. It was the first computer with multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts, and it kickstarted his career in revolutionising computer technology.

Steve had found what Rob Parsons describes in his book The Heart of Success as his 'Factor X'; the natural ability within an individual. Most people have never had the opportunity to consider, let alone discover, what their natural strengths are. I know that when I left school I sort of 'fell into' work. I didn't have a particular vocation in mind, and over the next few years I was able to try out a number of different things, but it wasn't until quite recently that I discovered what I'm really good at and what energises me.

Of course, even if we've discovered our own Factor X, many of us may be in a job that doesn't give us the chance to use it. We may find work draining and feel there is no way out as the need to put bread on the table each day overrides the opportunity to play to our strengths. In these circumstances, it's vital that we find activities outside our working lives that inspire and encourage us.

Many of us probably spend too much time trying to remedy our weaknesses and too little time playing to our strengths. Taking a few minutes to ask ourselves the following questions may prove to be more significant that we'd have ever realised.

What specific activities do I always find myself looking forward to?

What specific activities do I find completely draining?

What steps can I take to do more of the activities I enjoy?

There are a number of useful assessment resources that can help you identify your Factor X including Myers-Briggs, Strengthfinder and Birkman. (The Birkman Express service is available from Care for the Family).


Mark Molden is chief executive of Care for the Family, a national charity which strengthens family life and helps families in difficulty through a UK-wide programme of events, training courses, support networks and family-building breaks. Mark facilitates the charity's contributions to governmental green papers and recently represented Care for the Family in discussions at 10 Downing Street. He is married to Tess, lives in Chepstow and has six children.

This article originally appeared in Sorted Magazine and is used with permission.

14th May

May 14th, 2012 - Posted & Written by The Editor

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