Strengths v. Skills: Knowing the difference between strengths and what you’re good at can make lasting changes

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Real growth and transformation—personally and professionally—start by getting a clearer picture of how we’re assembled so we can re-make ourselves successfully.

Strengths v. Skills: Knowing the difference between strengths and what you’re good at can make lasting changes

A friend who was a journalist, back in his free-wheeling, free-lance days, thought he could buy more time on the road by writing about it. He was in frenzied flight from daily newspaper deadlines and enjoying seeing the parts of the world that didn’t unfold under the blaring of the police radio in the newsroom. He liked it so much that he thought he might prolong it with—wait for it: travel writing.

What could be more logical? He had a couple of decades’ experience writing fish wrap for newspapers other people had heard of and a portfolio of free-lance pieces on a broad range of subjects (about which he knew nothing when he accepted the assignments). And he loved, as we’ve already said, the travel thing. What could possibly go wrong?

The free-lancer’s eternal fear that there would be no bites on the line turned out to be wholly unjustified. A shocking number of travel-sites and online travel zines whistled, “Over here.” The proposed remuneration was shockingly low—but consistently so—and he quickly “calculated” that between the lower costs of living on the road (all commute, but no dry cleaning) and all the things he’d get "comped" for as a travel writer would quickly compensate.

Also—a side thought that turned out, in the end, to be the biggie—he looked down on travel writing as something “anyone” could do. Impressionistic on the one hand, word-supplyingly factual (how to get there; where to stay and eat) on the other—the stuff must all but write itself! All of a sudden, taking money for it at all it seemed almost indecent.

Cut to the chase: his run as a travel writer was shorter than his two-week stint as a cabana boy and bar waiter at a glitzy resort on the Rhode Island coast. In quick succession, he stopped enjoying travel and soon hated it. He found out that travel writing was a genre for which he was not only unprepared but fundamentally unsuited.

And the competition—whoever they were; he never saw them—kicked his butt. While he was (pre)occupied doing the reporter thing—checking places out, getting all the details about everything right, hunting down the reader-grabbing “lede”—the real travel writers were, he assumed (again, he never saw any), knocking back the brewskies in garden bars while cutting, pasting and “repurposing” the copy of all the internet travel sites at what had to be breath-taking speed. No wonder they could write for $40 per item.

What he hadn’t seen was that the writing skills that made him valuable in the newsroom—and to readers—were based on fact-finding, fact-interpreting, and knowing how a sentence works. What the competition was good at was what he either didn't have or had but misunderstood. They had the ability to communicate the love of travel, with all its haps and hazards, if not so much the “hard” information—which even online is dated as soon as it is posted.

They got the “impressionism” part of the travel writer’s calling. Also, they had learned how to merge travel and writing (had he forgotten that he went traveling to get away from the deadlines?) over time and in ways that worked for them. Mostly, he came to learn, those other phantom travel writers were working from their office day jobs, happy to make extra cash for drinks in trendy urban bars. Who knew?

He had mixed up what he was good at with his real strengths (and weaknesses). He had iffy motives of his own: he wanted to extend his travel time, not do travel writing. And he copped an attitude about it along the way. What that got him was a lasting resentment, a distaste for travel, and a too-expensive one-way ticket home.

Scott Berry | Certified MBTI Practitioner

Why is the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator so favoured by Fortune 100 companies and leaders? Because they know that organizational "culture" is everything: but to change culture you have to change yourself, from the inside, first. In the right hands, MBTI remains one of the most powerful tools for personal and professional growth and transformation.

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Strengths v. skills

It’s in the nature of healthy, living things to grow and want to grow more. Some people—your Picassos, your Einsteins—get their calling early and, we erroneously think, “just” follow their dreams.

This side of being Picasso (who was awful to women who were not Gertrude Stein, and whom few people liked) or Einstein (ditto, but hold the Gertrude Stein), what most us are in for in ouf professional lives are periodic job dissatisfaction and some (and sometimes much) chafing at the ties that bind us to out dissatisfactions.


First of all, Picasso was a force of nature. If you are, you’re surely not reading a blog. Also, Einstein came up with the e-equaled-mc-squared thing while having his brain energy and life force sapped by a clerk’s job at a Swiss patent office.

What they had was skills (Picasso: drawing; Einstein: maths) that they learned how to harness to what were actually their strengths. In both cases, their strength was to envision far beyond prevailing norms. Neither one of them counts as what we would call today a “role model.” Both were selfish and in fundamental ways infantile and what you could generously call their home lives were, let’s say, scattered.

For what it’s worth, Einstein’s genius not only brought him to the attention of the psychologist C.G. Jung, it brought Jung, literally and in person, to him, ostensibly to help him with chaos his genius whipped up.

Soon deciding, some would say defensively, that it was Jung who was crazy, Einstein dismissed him, and went on turning our “settled” knowledge of the universe inside out and on its head, with results both world-changing and, to his eventual alarm, planet-threatening.

For those of us with more modest missions in life than Picasso’s or Einstein’s, Jung’s understanding of how we’re built—as types, but, importantly, also as individuals—is one of the keys to meaningful change in life. Lasting, ongoing change rather than regular disruption, or defeated resignation. Jung understood that things we are good at are not always our real strengths, that is, the things that will get us somewhere we really want to go.

Also, that sometimes the things we’re “naturally” good at may be holding us back—precisely because they come so “easily” we haven’t had to learn how to control or channel them. And that some of us blossom by taking things in while others of us grow by reaching out.

Oh, and that those two things are not the same as being shy or brash. They may not even have to do with how we do “with” people so much as how we do “around” people.

Who knew?

Few, indeed. As the example of Einstein shows, people on that transcendent wave length have little use—and usually less tolerance—for guidance. The aspect of his story, and Picasso's, that doesn’t get folded into their legends is that they do what they do at a price, to themselves and others.

The rest of us might do well to run stuff by someone who gets the dynamic but isn’t us. Who can help us see rightly what we can only misperceive by looking at ourselves in the mirror. The mirror gives us a big piece of the information, but with the hitch that it gives it to us backwards.

Why, we rail, do the fraudsters “get ahead” while we work for them and clean up after them? Well, to look at them, it’s probably because they’re downright delusional about their skills—such as they even have measureable, demonstrable ones—but also they probably confuse their strengths with what is really little more than the force of their personalities. The thing is, they often end up in jail or prematurely dead.

But it’s not about them. It’s about us in all our complexity, growing in a sustainable way by learning our real strengths (what Jung would call our “superior functions”) and how they can be both buttressed and sabotaged by our native skills or talents (what Jung would call the “inferior function”). And learning over time to balance our fundamental components—thinking and feeling; sensation and intuition—to make the deep changes we most long to make.

Scott Berry | Certified 360-degree Practitioner

Leadership is a moving target. It requires us to get comfortable with almost continuous change. 360-degree, in the right hands, can motivate and help you! It evaluates the impact you have on the relationships around you, as you get the job done.

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A quick example?

You’ve always been good with numbers. Now, as technology elbows its way into our lives like a determined commuter at rush hour, you’ve become tech savvy. It’s your skill set, the skills are real and even developed, and they’ve rightly gotten you where you are. But no farther, and being your group’s “IT person” is no longer cutting it—if only for you.

What no one—least of all you—has realized is that the reason your work group wants to keep you right where you are is not that you can code or fix things, but rather that you can see the big picture. You can intuit how the way the company is doing things now is not moving toward that picture, and help others get past their technological shortcomings.

And you can do that without a) making them feel like idiots, or b) losing sight of how fixes serve no one if they’re not correcting the focus on the big picture. Or maybe it's something as basic as that it’s not the tech you’re good at, it’s people.

That might mean that if you, and then the others, came to appreciate your “real”—and highly individual—function (in both the Jungian and the job-description senses of the word), you really should be working as a cross-departmental strategist, the best-case scenario for your company as well as for you.

Or you should be making your own company because your real strength is seeing the big picture and how real people fit into it or don’t. Or you should be striking out on your own, because what you see is several sizes too big for any job you know of or could apply for.

Where you’re least likely to find out what you need to know to grow in a way that’s right for you and you specifically is in the mirror. Think, just for an instant, what Picasso saw in the mirror—what looked to most other people like busted stuff.

But Picasso got lucky, if not always in his personal relationships. What the rest of us can get is help. Growth often asks not so much unconditional support—which may do little more than keep the patient confortable—but the guidance from someone with the chops to help us see what for us are the trees, what for us is the forest. More, to find what could be, for us, the way out of the dark forest of being only who we think we are, to where, and who, we actually can be.




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