"It was all luck . . . and nothing else."
That's Mario Cuomo, talking recently to The New York Times (4/10/11) about how he became Governor of New York.
You've probably had the same thought, perhaps not about Mario Cuomo, but about yourself.
There's charm to downplaying your success. But if you truly regard your accomplishments as lucky, that's dangerous.
It means you don't know how you did whatever you did. Therefore, you can't repeat it. Or teach others.
Also, not knowing your strengths and skills, you feel like a fraud.
Do you know your strengths?
You certainly know your weaknesses—at least the ones other people have been telling you about, over and over.
1) I have no sense of direction. If you ever get lost in a car with me, and I advise you to turn right, don't.
2) Filing. I'm awful at it. Every few months, I resolve to de-clutter. Then I re-clutter. That's been going on for years.
3) I can't swim three lengths of a pool in a flight suit and tennis shoes. This one doesn't come up much. But it might, according to NASA, if I decided to become an astronaut, which I won't (see #1).
You can't build a career around repairing your weaknesses.
Strengths are more solid. Unfortunately, your strengths are often invisible, at least to you.
Strengths come so naturally that we take them for granted, like a fish that never needed swimming lessons.
How do you identify your strengths?
1) Self-assess. One useful book: "Strengths Finder 2.0," by Tom Rath. It identifies 34 strengths. Skim the book in 10 minutes to find a few of yours.
Some have strange names, like "woo" (acronym for Winning Others Over).
"All my taxi drivers," says one woman, quoted for woo, "propose to me."
I've been in a lot of taxis, both as a passenger and, years ago, as a driver (hopelessly lost). Nothing like that ever happened to me.
Obviously, I need more woo.
Another good resource: Richard Bolles' "What Color is Your Parachute Workbook," based on his best-selling "Parachute" book (disclaimer: I'm briefly mentioned in that book).
Bolles lists 69 skills, arranged in three categories: People (there are 25 different people skills); Information (20 skills); Things (24 skills).
He suggests taking one of your accomplishments, from any age, and checking off the skills you used. Do that 5-6 times, for 5-6 different accomplishments—suddenly, you see a pattern.
2) Ask others. Ask a few people to write you a letter about your strengths. Ask your friends, your family, your manager.
Got woo? Ask your next cab driver.
Tip: Know your strengths—you're more likely to get "lucky."
© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.