A few years ago I did an exercise that changed the way I viewed myself and approached my new business.
It was 2010 and I decided to go it alone and start a fulltime freelance strategic creative business.
I had no partner to help with bills. And I had a mortgage.
The timing wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t my personal choice. But my workplace of eight years had become so toxic that I felt like it was the only choice I could make.
My mum, a clinical psychologist, gave me some advice.
“You could use the VIA Strengths tool,” she said. So I did.
VIA Strengths is a quiz that takes quite some time to complete. What she meant was that I should use it as a consulting tool for my clients.
But when I sat the quiz, which took nearly an hour, I was surprised at the result. I thought I knew myself pretty well, but the result changed my business idea completely.
What are Strengths?
We can define strengths as the abilities, skills, competencies, and talents that you have developed over your life to date.
Unquestionably, you were born with individual “gifts” — aptitudes of various kinds — some of which you have developed through training and practice, and some of which you may have left relatively undeveloped.
I won’t spark a nature-versus-nurture debate here. Your strengths today are the combined product of your genes, your environment, and the choices you make to invest your time and energy in certain directions rather than others.
Your Personal Signature
Your strengths form a key part of your ‘personal signature’ — the attributes that make you a unique individual.
Do what you love, the money will follow
Some people have all the luck. They do what they love and love what they do. Their work and pleasure are one and the same. Plus, they get the extra bonus of deeper satisfaction that comes from altruism.
Do what you love, the money will follow is such an old aphorism. But I think it’s wise and recession-proof.
Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
Flourishing and Flow
You know when you are so involved in your work that you lose all sense of time? Hours disappear. You’re immersed. That’s flow. When you can regularly have these ‘flow’ experiences, we flourish.
Get really involved in something you enjoy, and an unpleasant workplace doesn’t leave its trace on you.
Absorption is the paradise of work. [Donald Hall]
Knowing and using your strengths leads to greater happiness and satisfaction in work and in life. we flourish. And become more resilient to upsets and failings.
Flourishing is a key emerging concept in positive psychology; a state of mental and emotional wellbeing, marked by both a high level of productivity and positive mental health.
How to Identify Your Strengths
The VIA Institute has a stated aim to help people change their lives by tapping into the power of their own greatest strengths.
VIA is a nonprofit organization. It offers the only free and scientific survey of character strengths. There are a series of paid reports to get further depth for yourself or your clients, but the free survey can be completed online after registering.
I recommend this free test. It may show that you are strong where you thought, but it might also reveal a few hidden strengths upon which you can capitalize.
Motivated Skills Card Sort
This is a task that involves sorting a deck of 51 cards into the level of your preference and enjoyment. This video shows how to use it.
If you are cashed up but time-poor, Clifton might be the way to go for you.
Clifton Strengths Finder
This tool is a paid report, but it is highly accurate and useful. It promises to help you get crystal clear about who you are. There are 3 steps in the CliftonStrengths finder process and it starts with a questionnaire.
“Strengths” are viewed as the result of maximized talents. Specifically, a strength is mastery created when one’s most powerful talents are refined with practice and combined with acquired relevant skills and knowledge.
At the moment, enneagrams are all the rage, but this tool is a measure of Personality.
THE ACTION PHASE
After we get an analysis, we move from reflecting and thinking to doing. A coach or therapist might start with the question, “Which strength are you interested in applying in your daily life?”
Some people immediately know what to do with their VIA Survey results and begin using their strengths in new ways and building up strengths they’d forgotten they had.
Before the test, I believed that I would turn out to be a ‘creative’. That had been my job for a long time and I was always being lauded for. My results said my top strengths were Judgement and critical thinking.
Incidentally, on personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am INTJ and enneagram is weighted to number 5 (the investigator).
When I found my top strengths were judgment (and the enneagram showed me weighted toward number 5, the Investigator), I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. Where did that leave my creative venture?
It meant that strategic planning was where my heart was really at. Creative elements were ways to implement that judgment and critical thinking. Basically, my clients would be seeking advice and higher-order goals than a logo.
And that wasn’t a bad thing after all.
To this day, I encourage business clients to use strengths-based leadership. It works.