“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go, and why you want to get there.” -Kofi Annan
So, you’ve decided it’s time to make a change. You know that you want more purpose in your work and to make a bigger impact with your career, but the question you’re facing now is: “Where do I start?”
It can be tempting to quit your job with an Office Space inspired walkout or spend hours scrolling through job boards and researching companies to work for. But in helping hundreds of professionals transition their careers for greater impact through our professional development programs, we’ve found that the best way to start moving forward is actually to take a step back.
As Kofi Annan points out above, to know where you want to go, you first need to understand yourself. That’s why one of the first things we help our Global Fellows do in the MovingWorlds Institute is uncover their unique strengths and purpose drivers. Research has proven that we perform better when our individual strengths align with our job tasks, and we feel more satisfied and fulfilled, too. By building a career around your strengths, you can ensure that you’re choosing a path where you can succeed in the long-term, rather than ending up equally unfulfilled and finding yourself back at square one.
What are strengths, anyways?
A lot of us were raised to believe that a strength is what we’re good at, and a weakness is what we’re bad at. The problem with this definition is that it equates strengths to performance. Instead, we prefer Marcus Buckingham’s definition of a strength as an activity that strengthens you, and a weakness as an activity that weakens you. It’s a subtle but important difference: you may be good at accounting, for example, but if it’s something that you dread doing and find draining, then it isn’t a strength. Knowing and owning your strengths allows you to voice what’s important to you and leverage those talents that come naturally to you.
“Your strengths have an I-can’t-help-but quality to them. You can’t quite articulate why, but you find yourself drawn to certain activities repeatedly. Even though you may be just a little scared to do them, just a little nervous—‘Maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’ll fail’—you nonetheless feel a pull toward them.” -Marcus Buckingham
How to uncover your strengths
If you can’t name your strengths off the top of your head, that’s ok! You can find clues by simply paying attention to how your energy and engagement change with different tasks and activities that you do. To help you do that, we’ve developed a free Audit Your Strengths activity, which you can access here.
Start by writing down all of the activities that you do (without judgement) to see where you spend your energy each day. Then, for each activity, select how you felt in terms of energy and engagement. Highly engaging and energizing activities will appear in green, neutral activities will appear in yellow, and draining and demotivating activities will appear in red.
Now, look for patterns in the kinds of tasks that strengthen, energize, and engage versus the tasks that weaken, drain, and disengage you. What do they have in common? What strengths and weaknesses show up across multiple activities?
Let’s look at an example:
In this example above, the most energizing and engaging activities (in green) all have a common thread of sharing knowledge to empower others. The least energizing and engaging activities (in red) all have a common thread related to processes and data analysis. For this person, communication and relationship building are strengths, while processes and data analysis are weaknesses.
Once you’ve identified the strengths that underlie your green activities, you can further explore each one using the SIGNS framework. The SIGNS of a strength are:
- Success: You feel effective and in control when doing this activity
- Instinct: You instinctively look forward to doing this activity
- Growth: While doing this activity, time speeds up because you’re learning so quickly
- Need: You feel fulfilled after doing this activity, rather than drained
So, for the example above, that could look like this:
Once you complete this for 3-5 strengths, you’ll start to notice some really telling patterns. Simply reading top to bottom in each of the columns will likely create a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. After completing this exercise in one of our cohorts, one of our members remarked: “I’ve never felt so well understood in my life before… too bad it’s by a piece of paper!” But this is where peer-based support can really take this exercise to the next level. By writing this out and then talking through it with a friend, coach, manager (or, if you’re accepted into the MovingWorlds Institute Fellowship, a peer Fellow), will help you connect the dots between your strengths AND how best to communicate these to future employers.
For more individualized support uncovering and leveraging your strengths in your career, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute. Applications for our last Global Fellowship cohort of the year close on September 30th.
And be sure to follow this new blog series, #SocialImpactCareerGuide, to see more tips on how to find a more fulfilling job that puts your strengths to work to build a better world.