In my younger life I was often surprised (and irritated) that people didn’t do things the way I did them and didn’t see the world the way I saw it.
When I switched careers and retrained in psychology and HR, I started to understand that people’s brains process and comprehend information in different ways. Very different ways. With the ignorance of youth, I’d assumed that other people were being stupid when they couldn’t do things I took for granted and asked what I thought were obvious questions.
I was also ignorant about myself, in not understanding that my own skills and abilities, things I could do so well that I took them for granted, were valuable to others. And that lack of self-awareness wasn’t limited to me, as I was reminded recently when starting out with a new career transition client. Let’s call her Lucy.
Lucy’s role was being made redundant and she needed to apply for new roles. After our introductory chat, I asked Lucy detailed questions about her work experience and anticipated next steps. I then asked her what her strengths and special skills were… and she went quiet.
After a mildly awkward silence, she said: “I don’t have any.”
It was a surprise because she’d just spent 10 minutes telling me all about her (extensive) work experience and what made her (amazingly) good at her job. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m rarely stuck for words but on this occasion I truly was. How could she not see how incredibly strong her skills, experience and attitude were? It was obvious to me. But not to Lucy. She just said:
“There’s nothing special about me, I just do what I do.”
She wasn’t being modest, she was genuinely perplexed that the complex tasks she performed each day couldn’t be done by, as she put it ‘just about anyone with half a brain.’ Lucy didn’t see how great her skills were because she used them every day and just assumed everybody could do what she did. They can’t. Trust me.
That conversation got me thinking about skills and behaviours that we take for granted and the other times that clients, friends and people I speak to don’t realise they have a skill or special ability because “it’s just what I do.”
Giving 110%, sticking with it to get the job done, questioning, showing empathy and exercising judgement are all behaviours that, I find, we take for granted when we have and use them.
Similarly, being innately organised, multi-tasking, building relationships, managing difficult conversations and solving problems are skills we often forget that we have after we’ve been using them for years at home and at work or because they are just a part of who we are and we don’t think of them as special or valuable skills.
One of the biggest barriers to achieving skills and strengths awareness is that we don’t stop to think about our skills and behaviours so it’s surprisingly powerful when a client talks about what they do for a few minutes and I then play back to them how many skills I ‘spotted’ as they were talking.
If you’re struggling to understand what you’re good at or find it hard to articulate your strengths, then a session of career therapy could help you. You might not see at first what makes you strong because it’s ‘just who you are’ but I can help you see your abilities in an objective way. In a way that you can own them and be proud to shout about them.
Why not give it a try?