In many self-help books today, many authors are encouraging their readers to adopt a “Do-All” attitude. While this is a very positive thing to do, it will be good to highlight the fact at this point that all of us have limited time and resources in our lives. Hence, making an effort to do everything that comes our way is not really a workable solution. Consider a couple for example. If the husband receives a job offer in an overseas posting with improved pay in the midst of his wife’s pregnancy, should he adopt a “Do-All” attitude and seek greener pastures elsewhere and leave his wife in the lurch? Thus, even if one were to adopt a “Do-All” attitude, it must be carefully thought through with other implications and one’s situation/circumstances at hand.
Speaking of “Do-All” attitude reminds me of the film “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey where he stars as a man who spends his entire life saying no, until he went to a seminar who encourages him to say “Yes!” to everything in life. Towards the end of the show, the audience are also given the message that saying “Yes!” to everything does not work out well as well. Considering that the act of saying “Yes!” to everything in life is equivalent to adopting a “Do-All” attitude, wouldn’t such an attitude be detrimental to our physical and emotional well-being? This is especially so in the educational sector, where some educators are asked to guide students on modules that do not lie within the domain of their expertise (the rationale being that being professional educators, all educators should be able to guide students equally well in the subject matter).
Personally, I feel that a better approach to life is to work on our strengths, rather than working on every task that comes our way. In another words, I am advocating that we- regardless of us being educators or working professionals – be specialists rather than generalists. As mentioned above, our limited resources do not permit us to be generalists. Even if we made an effort to do so, we will not do as well as if we put in the effort to be specialists. Just look at the successful professionals around us. Agatha Christie is a successful writer because her forte lies in writing. Albert Einstein is a great scientist because his strength lies in the sciences. Aristotle, Socrates and Plato are all great philosophers as they are adept in speech craft. Even then, the road to success is not easy either. All of them make their mark midway or late in their lives (which further shows that it takes time to work on our strengths, so why do we want to spend our time on things that are not within our field of expertise? Gaining new experiences is good but not when these activities take up the bulk of our time). Nevertheless, all of them achieve success in their lives. Why? Because they focus on their strengths. Can you imagine them adopting a “Do-All” attitude, with Agatha Christie taking up cooking, Albert Einstein with painting and the philosophers indulging in engineering? Do you think that they will attain such a high level of remarkable success as they have done? Probably not.
Thus identifying our strengths and working on them is very important in each of our lives, regardless of whether we discover them early or late in life. Colonel Kentucky started late but he managed to turn Kentucky Fried Chicken into a multinational company on a global scale and the organisation is still thriving years after he’s gone. We can look around us and we can observe many similar stories: ordinary people like us who achieve success by working on their strengths.
The challenge of building on our strengths does not lie in the actual act of building or honing it but rather, on identifying it. Our strengths are one of the things that always seems elusive to us. Most of the time, this is because there is a gap between what we enjoy doing and what we are doing (especially in the workplace). Most of us have a misconception that what we like to do most cannot be aligned with the work that we are doing. For instance, consider an engineer. If he finds passion in painting during his leisure time, he will probably find difficulty in blending this interest of his into his profession. This is a very common occurrence. Do you often feel the same way when you are in the workplace? That you have no interest in what you are working on? Or that you do not take well to certain aspect of your job scope? Do you feel drained by this? If so, consider the following:
- Learn to love what you dislike: This is what most parents and self-help writers would have advised, because there’s a common perception that we will do well in everything that we have set our hearts to do. But personally, this approach will always rank right at the bottom of my recommendation list. Why? This is because in life, there’s some things/people that we like and there’s some things/people that we do not really like. Think about it. If we are able to love everything in life, then why are there tons of books on (workplace) conflict resolutions? Why are marketing brands often competing for market visibility? Why are newspapers and magazines fighting for readership? Why are there different professions in life? Why do we have different interests and hobbies? The reason is simple: Because we have preferences. And human nature does not permit us to change that.
- Request for a shift in focus to suit our preferences: This is a rather good technique because it enables us to perform at peak condition and often achieve optimal results. However, most corporate organisations do not permit employees to work in the areas of their expertise (or at least, not entirely). “Working with constraints” or “lack of manpower” are often the two commonly- stated reasons given when employees request for a change of department or in their work environment. In another words, most employees are not recruited for their talents or strengths but -more often than not- are “plucked” into a open vacancy usually because a former employee has just left the organisation or they are merely employed to fill up the “gaps” to fulfill the manpower quota. I have even come across situations where employers have asked employee X to work in a particular area where employee Y has his strengths. And in turn, employee Y is asked to work in an area where employee X is strong in. Do you find this absurd? I do. As a result, these organisations often do not thrive because the organisation is not leveraging on the employee’s strengths. The employees, on the other hand, also experience a drastic drop in their motivation level. Be it on an organisational or individual level, if we wish to do well, we need to identify every employee’s strengths and then tap into them.
- Go independent: If one tries all ways to improve the situation and still fail, it’s best to consider going independent. What is meant by going independent? Doing freelance work, working as an independent consultant, running one’s own business are some examples. There are many benefits to this: we are no longer affected by corporate bureaucracies, no bosses will be breathing down our necks, we set our own deadlines (and take them off if we choose to), we are able to work from home (read: increased flexibility), there’s no more “eight-to-five” routine, we may work long nights but we are working on something that we love, we make our own decisions, the time is all ours to schedule (no more corporate meetings), we define our own work plans (with not pre-fixed corporate work plans that may not align totally with our work plans). Of course, on the flipside, there’s always the unpredictability in our monetary remuneration. However, comparing our high commitment level to an organisation to increased flexibility, which matters more to us? The choice that we make will determine the decision that we will choose.
Regardless of the choices that we make, I believe that deep in our hearts, there’s a dream or rather, a life goal that each and every one of us wants to achieve. And these life goals are different for each of us. However, our life goals are often closely tagged to our strengths. In another words, we often use our strengths to achieve our life goals. Just look at all the successful individuals in our lives and we will notice this. And thus, in whatever things that we set out to do, we always seek to align our actions with our life goals through working on our strengths. This is because only when we do this can we find meaning in our lives. In a corporate setting, it will be great if an organisation is able to propel us towards our life goals as it will expedite the process of us reaching it. This is especially when all of us work together in an organisation with a corporate vision that is in line with our own. However, due to corporate bureaucracies or supervisors with conflicting working and/or communication styles (with at times unreasonable demands), organisations sometimes hinder the process seriously. Such is often the dilemma of most corporate employees.
Regardless of our circumstances, we should always do our best to develop our strengths as it’s our strengths that will enable us to reach our life goals and our dreams. Always look for opportunities to develop and contribute our strengths in every aspect of our lives.
And one day, we will each find our own success at our own time.