Have you ever wondered if you are using your unique abilities professionally? Do you know what those skills or talents are in your case?
I’ve been struggling for a long time trying to figure out what I do best, what I should be doing professionally in order to put into practice my talents.
This is something that affects specially avocational people, that is, people without clarity about what they want to do with their life from a very young age. If you know it, perfect! You can skip years of search for meaningful work, trials, start-overs, etc. and work directly towards your calling.
If you are not that lucky in that sense, like me and the other 60-70 percent of the population according to Martin Seligman, pioneer in the field of positive psychology, keep reading because I’ll share a useful and simple exercise to help get clarity on your unique abilities which could make you feel you are getting closer to your calling, or at least feel more fulfilled.
There’s a third group of people who know they have a calling but can’t pursue it or don’t know how. According to new research published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, “Having an unanswered calling leads to poorer life outcomes than having no calling at all, and it could even harm your health. Their prediction was based on Self-Determination Theory, which states that we are motivated to follow paths that lead us to be autonomous and competent within ‘our’ field, but that the flipside is that we can be left frustrated when we know we have fallen short.”
Apparently, there’s a forth group of people which Emily Wapnick calls the Multipotentialites, who have a range of interests and jobs over one lifetime. After watching her inspiring TEDTalk “Why some of us don’t have a true calling” I realized I might be a multipotentialite as well.
In a nutshell, these are the 4 types in the continuum having-a-clear-calling/not-having-a-calling-at-all:
- People with a clear calling following their path
- People without a clear calling
- People with a calling but who can’t manifest it
- People with several interests and passions to pursue
So, what can we do if we have no idea about what we should be doing or what we are best at?
I want to share a useful exercise I did two or three years ago, when I sent an email to five or six good friends, family members and/or past bosses and asked them what did they think are my talents and unique abilities. The responses I got are very useful when I try to overcome limiting beliefs or now that I am trying to reinvent myself professionally.
Interestingly, the answers hardly mentioned my hard skills related to the work I had been doing (eventhough they think I’m good at what I do), but put emphasis on my soft skills. Things like empathy, listening, connecting people with useful resources or ideas, having a sixth sense to feel people’s mood or the energy of a situation, creating peaceful environments and trustworthiness.
That unexpected feedback turned into new questions in my mind concerning whether I was making the best use of my skills career-wise. But that is a topic for a future post.
In case you want to give this exercise a try, these are the 2 exact questions I asked in the email I sent (extracted from the book “80/20 Sales and Marketing” from Perry Marshall):
- What is my unique capability?
- What do I naturally do better than most people?
Getting this useful feedback may not provide us with a clear professional calling, but we might get a wider perspective on what skills, talents and abilities we could be using to feel more fulfilled.
Warning: the feedback may disrupt your comfy life if you have been working for years on a position that it never quite fulfilled you but you got used to it. Dreams of a better use of your talents might pop up regularly and maybe even push you to try something new. If that’s the case, I encourage you to read first the book “So good they can’t ignore you. Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” by Cal Newport. It opened my eyes to new ideas and possibilities that I had never considered before.
After all, having a calling might not be the Holy Grail for happiness. According to psychology professor Ryan Duffy “the pressure to live up to a calling can lead to burnout, workaholism, and corporate exploitation.”
Further research on unanswered occupational callings suggests some alternatives to enjoy life even without a clear calling: “pursue these unanswered callings by employing five different techniques to craft our jobs (task emphasizing, job expanding, and role reframing) and our leisure time (vicarious experiencing and hobby participating).”
Once we find out what our unique capabilities are, the most challenging part might be, how to put them into practice in a new profession or career where we can make the most use of those abilities.
The more advanced into life we are when we face this situation, a.k.a. being married, having kids, mortgage, etc. the more difficult it will be to apply dramatic changes into our career. However, there’s always the possibility to start using them in our current work and see where that leads us.
Let me know in the comments below which of these 4 types represents you better.
Have you been able to connect your abilities and talents to your profession or career until now?