What is Your Gift?
One of the key business lessons I learned was to focus on your strengths, and try to neutralize your weaknesses in the most efficient way possible. Spending life worrying about what you’re not good at is just painful and not much fun.
Ironically, that’s what school teaches us to do. Raise your grades! Be good at everything. Stay quiet and behave. In the real business world, leaders are born from leveraging their strengths and being able to see the strengths in other team members.
Instead, school puts social pressure on us to become best students. When I was in undergraduate business school, the best kids who started their own businesses didn’t have the highest GPAs. They maintained average Bs while they worked on their side businesses. A close friend of mine to this day, EH made and sold a website about student ringtones for $50,000 his junior year. His GPA was around 2.8 / 4.0.
So how to do find out what we are good at? Many management consultants have tried, and business books such as Strength Finder 2.0 and personality tests attempt to answer the question via large scale surveys and measurements.
Well, for me, one of my original inspirations came from a professor in college. Here is my recollection of the story of how I came to become the entrepreneur I am today:
It was a sunny day in May, near graduation time. I was a senior, and was acing my way through Global Marketing. I enjoyed the class, and I always thought our case studies of international markets were amazing. One day, Professor Jeannet asked me to stay after class. I thought I was in trouble.
Me: “Hi Professor”
Prof J: “Hello there”
Me: “I’m sorry I’m always 5-10 minutes late for class. I can come in earlier next time!”
Prof J: “I don’t care about that”
Me: “Oh. Ok…”
Prof: “R, you have a gift.”
Prof J: “You have something that is unique to you, and it will become very valuable when you graduate and get into the real world.”
Me: “What is it professor? I don’t quite understand”
Prof J: “You have a strategic mind. Your insights in class on the case studies are great. Your father was a diplomat, right?”
Prof J: “Your experience helps you see things differently, but that’s not it. It is the way your mind works when you think about business cases. Strategically, you see the big picture. This will be very useful in big corporations and with people that need vision in the business world.”
Me: “Thank you Professor”
Prof J: “That’s all. Don’t waste it. Let me know if I can help you with anything before graduation”
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but a few months later, I became the youngest project manager at management consulting firm located near New York. I had left my Boston school life and one day, after work, our CEO walked me into the bar because I wasn’t old enough to get in! (I was 20 at the time)
Chris Rock says in his skit,
“A job is a 9-5 thing you can’t wait to get out of… you’ll be in the bathroom and it stinks but you still don’t want to go back to work”
“A career – on the other hand, there’s never enough time. People with jobs hate on people with careers”
I would add to that and say, a “calling” is what you were born to do. A career can be forced by developing our weaknesses and strategically going after a “high paying” job. Many of my friends did this by going into finance after graduation. There are no lies in a calling. It simply is. The person becomes the human embodiment of those values and beliefs. The crocodile hunter would quality as such.
My work in strategic consulting was taxing on the body, but I realized that I had a natural ability to see things strategically. My insights helped out clients tremendously, although I did have weaknesses in paying close attention to and remembering details. That said, forcing me to do math and excel spreadsheets helped me develop an UN-natural competency in business analytics and extreme attention to the details. Just like my Chinese teachers, who hit us with a crisp bamboo stick once for every point we missed from the perfect score of 100, you learn to get good very quickly, even if you suck at it J
Thus, my math skills are significant, considering that I do not have a natural talent for it.
I would categorize a level of success in any profession of these 3 things
1) Your strengths – what are you born to do? What are you better at than anyone else? What talent has God given you? What are some memories from your childhood that standout, when you were able to use a skill you had to get out of a tough situation, or to lead a team and do something you never thought was possible?
2) Your competencies – these are the skills you develop to have “street cred” in the profession and are required for success. For example, as an online marketer, you must understand email marketing, affiliate sales, and web analytics. You need to know the basics of hosting or find someone who does this for you. Even if you have an employee, you need to know the general framework of how websites work. If you are not naturally good at this, you can still leverage your strength in “people – skills” while mastering these “core competencies” of the trade.
3) Certain people and CEOs have the necessary resources to hire the right people for the right role, and not think about it. Vincent Chase is good fictional examples of a movie star who handles none of his own business and lets his manager Eric do the rest. But if you consistently do this as a leader, you will always be at the mercy of other people. Marilyn Monroe suffered such a fate when she trained with Natasha L., who became her constant comfort from over medication. A sick dependency developed until she was able to find another acting coach in Lee Strasburg in New York. There’s a certain freedom to knowing the skills of your craft, even if you are not naturally good at it.
Think about your natural gifts and how often you make use of it in your day-to-day life. Post your thoughts, comments and strengths below.