NEW YORK CITY, USA – “You can succeed at anything as long as you work hard” – this saying has been making the rounds for decades. Taught in schools and reinforced in every hero’s tale that hard work indeed triumphs everything. Yet there are few heroes every decade and most of us still find ourselves far from being successful despite hard work and dedication.
For some, luck comes to rescue; for others, being street smart is the key to success; and for a few, recognising the right opportunities at the right time coupled with a ‘never give up’ attitude does the trick.
And yet no one really tells us while growing up that apart from hard work what is that one thing that is needed to succeed in life?
Is it a good education or just getting a very lucky break? Or is it a byproduct of innate talents and doing what you are best at? Or is it just that some people are more likely to succeed than others as a result of some random and unexplained reason?
So really, what it is?
During a discussion at one of my classes at the New York University, a fellow student pointed out that – being an avid reader of autobiographies – she has often noted that people who were successful in their lives had either a lucky break on the journey, or were pushed towards greatness, or, like they say, had greatness entrusted to them by the virtue of their families or other privileges. Some were people, who had natural talents and some of them were just ordinary people, who were at the right place at the right time.
This discussion led me to recall all the biographies that I have read so far and what I found was: that I somewhat agreed with her. Very rarely did I read about someone who achieved greatness just by working hard for something they were not good at. Or that they would ultimately triumphed over their weaknesses and converted them into strengths. Most of the successful people only succeeded at things they were “naturally good at”.
Can you be good at something if you are not a natural talent?
It had taken me a few years and one eventful discovery of a book that served as an eureka moment. And I realised the key to be successful at something is to identify and focus on one’s strengths. The book in question is the renowned StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, which is a number one bestseller on the Wall Street Journal.
The book is based on Gallup’s 40-year-long study of human strengths from which they created a language of the 34 most common talents and developed an assessment test that helps people discover these talents and capitalize their own skills. The assessment test actually measures stable personality traits that are termed as “talents”. Hence, strengths are the byproduct of “talents” and “investments”.
The book defines talent as “a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving”, whereas investment is defined as “time spent practicing your skills and building your existing knowledge base.”
Let me explain these through an example:
Let’s say Person A has a natural talent for public speaking. He first recognizes this and then subsequently decides to capitalize on it. He spends considerable time practicing this skill and perhaps takes workshops and increases his skill base. Person B, on the other hand, does not have a natural talent for public speaking but insists on making a career out of it. He spends an equal amount of time in practicing and improving his skill.
The Gallop research argues that the chances of succeeding for Person A is much higher than Person B who wastes his resources on something that is not his forte to begin with.
However, Gallop does not just offer us simple theories but also reveals considerable research to back up their claims.
And this brings us to another question:
What do you do if you have no option but to master and overcome your weaknesses in order to make sense about the other strengths that you have?
Fortunately, the situation is not as hopeless as you may think it is:
Let’s assume that you are running a business that sells clothes. You have an amazing talent for designing clothes and yet you find yourself far from being successful as a designer. You find yourself lacking at making connections and failing to get buyers to see your clothes.
What do you do?
According to Rath’s book, you should partner up with someone, who has a talent of networking with people and making relationships and who is also good communicator.
The eureka moment – or had I known it all my life
To give you a more credible review, I decided to take the assessment test and see if it is accurate in my case. The test that approximately takes 30 minutes and costs around 10 dollars is available here.
It tests various talents and identifies the top ten gifts that you have; but you can also upgrade and get the complete 34 talents.
You have only twenty seconds to answer each question. The results, however, were astoundingly accurate: empathy, developing and harmony were listed as my top three strengths.
As a teacher I got to utilize my strengths of empathy and developing and sometimes even harmony. Nonetheless I chose this career path only by trail and error.
Had I known my strengths so clearly before, perhaps the road to a satisfying and rewarding career would have been easier and more focused.
Gallop also offers strengths finder assessment for young adults and kids so they have what I would call the right start in life. As mentioned in the book, a 23-year-long study that examined 1,000 children in New Zealand shows that the child’s observed personality at the age of three has a remarkable similarity to his personality traits at the age of 26*.
So what is my conclusion after reading StrengthsFinder 2.0?
If you could be aware of your strengths while growing up, imagine the remarkable choices that you could make in regards to selecting your majors in college or working towards a focused career for that matter. Perhaps with more self-awareness we would have fewer adults, who, even after a lifetime of working hard, find little likelihoods for success at their jobs and become increasingly dissatisfied with their careers.
Maybe now is the time to upgrade our saying that is widely addressed in schools to, “You can succeed at anything as long as you are good at it and you work hard on it”.
* Used literature:
CapsiA.,Harrington,H.,MilneB.,Amell,J.W.,Theodore,R.F.,&Moffitt,T.E(2003).Children’s behavioral styles at age 3 are linked to their adult personality traits at age 26 .Journal of psychology ,71,495-515.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Editor at MissCareerLess
After her career hit a bump in the road, adjusting to New York where, according to a song “women are beautiful and everyone has a job” life is certainly not easy for Shamim. She bid adieu to a career in education in Pakistan when she moved to New York City after getting married and still awaits a work permit. Taking journalism classes at NYU School of Continuing Education and working on a blog keeps her motivated. When she is not writing, she can be found spending time on a yoga mat and walking around the city of New York discovering new coffee shops. More about Shamim…
Photo credit: Flickr / John Hain