Make the best of your gifts and talents

“I had a crazy dream the other night,” he said, shaking his head. “How crazy,” I asked, breaking my trail mix cookie in two and taking a bite. “Well,” he began. “I dreamt I died and was standing before my maker.”

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” — Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

“I had a crazy dream the other night,” he said, shaking his head.

“How crazy,” I asked, breaking my trail mix cookie in two and taking a bite.

“Well,” he began. “I dreamt I died and was standing before my maker.”

“Really? I replied. “And did he have anything interesting to say to you?”

“I said something to him,” he admitted. “I asked him why I’d been cheated.”

“I assume you were referring to looks, brains and personality,” I teased.

“Aren’t you funny,” he said. “No, I was actually referring to talent.”

As the conversation unfolded, I learned that my friend did indeed feel cheated — short-changed in the area of talent. I told him I disagreed. In fact, I told him I thought he had an abundance of talent in many different areas — writing, sketching and working with his hands. He shrugged his shoulders. I suggested he stop comparing himself unfavourably with others.

What is the key to enjoying a happy, fulfilling and prosperous existence? Some would suggest that it’s a natural consequence of acknowledging what we’re good at — our inherent gifts and talents — and then leveraging those abilities effectively in every area of our life.

But what if we don’t know where our talents lie or feel we have too little talent to compete effectively with others? You might be surprised how many people fail to utilize natural gifts.

According to an American Gallup poll of 10 million people (from all walks of life) more than seven million felt they were working at jobs that did not reflect their natural gifts and talents. There is also data to support the assumption that people working jobs that do not utilize inherent skills and abilities are more likely to feel unfulfilled and suffer from stress or depression.

According to an article by Rich Maloof in MSN Health and Fitness (Feb. 24, 2011), more people die of heart attacks between 4 and 10 a.m. Monday than any other six-hour period. Why is this happening? Are people – quite literally – in the wrong place doing wrong things?

For a short time I facilitated a leadership workshop for middle managers. One aspect of the training involved determining each participant’s natural and adapted style. Essentially, who they were naturally (at home or with friends) as compared to whom they became while performing their jobs. I was amazed by the gap that often existed between the two states. For more participants, bridging the gap meant learning skills that did not come naturally — this often proved immensely difficult. I found this exercise intriguing as the goal of self-esteem building is to connect with our authentic self: to free ourselves from fear and self-defeating ways of thinking and being, to embrace our gifts and true nature, to be who we truly are.

I think confusion exists between talent and strength. Talent is something that we are naturally gifted with — an endowment at birth. Strength is something that we can acquire by building upon our talents. If we take our unique talents and develop them, they become our strengths.

Want to discover your natural talents? Start by thinking about something for which you get a lot of compliments. You might take this skill for granted, but others recognize it as a gift.

Set a few minutes aside and write down, as quickly as you can, whatever it is that you’re good at doing. Write without judgment. There is no right or wrong answer. Just capture whatever comes to mind. First responses are often the best as your critical, conscious mind has not had the time to analyze and discard them. Take a mental journey back to your childhood and think about what you dreamed of doing – what thoughts filled your young mind. What is it that caused you to lose track of time? Write it down. Now take all of these insights and put them together on one piece of paper and look for patterns. You might be surprised by what you find. Ask yourself, if money or status wasn’t an issue, what would you do as a living?

I know people who work at jobs they despise and often for money, status or because someone else expects it of them. We can waste a great deal of time struggling to succeed at things that aren’t congruent or in harmony with our natural gifts and talents. We can also struggle to overcome perceived weaknesses when we do not have the natural talent to do so.

Perhaps the work you perform does not relate directly to your innate talents as is often the case. Maybe, with a little creative thought, you can still bring some element of your gifts to the job. If not, you can certainly exercise your talents outside of work by developing a rewarding hobby. I was writing for enjoyment long before writing became my profession.

Sometimes, working on the side to strengthen our gifts can lead to a harmonious, new career.