In a class I teach on purposeful leadership I ask my students to keep a journal for three weeks. Each night the students are challenged to reflect on the day and list what they loved doing, what they were good at, and what improvements they wanted to make to the world.
I’ve taught this class for five years and the shortest list (by far) on every student entry I’ve read is in response to the prompt: “What were you good at today?”
Sadly this seems to be true for a lot of people. We seem to have a difficult time identifying and communicating our talents. And it’s not a surprise.
In today’s hyper-connected world we are inundated with advertisements for products that can improve our lives, social media statuses that show us who we aren’t, and an enduring over-reliance on arbitrary performance ratings that tell us if we’re good enough (by someone else’s standard).
The problem is that when we become so busy trying to measure up, we forget to reflect. And the absence of self-reflection is the absence of knowledge – of ourselves.
When I meet with people who tell me they feel lost in life or work, a lack of talent is almost never the issue; a lack of positive self-knowledge is.
And the self-knowledge gap can be dangerous.
If we can’t identify and talk about what we’re good at, we can begin to feel dispensable and ordinary. This is precisely the state in which we are most vulnerable to be tempted to grow into what others want us to be.
I think we need to start asking better questions of ourselves. Not only to better understand what our gifts are but to liberate our own unique futures.
The truth is that you are an expert in something. You may not know it yet because when you are doing that “something” you’re in a state of flow – everything feels and comes easy to you.
I can guarantee that what comes easy to you is something someone else is trying to work on. This is where your indispensable and unique value in the world lies and also where your future career may be waiting.
Too often we obsess about and replay all of the negative moments of our lives; an activity that when followed to its end is completely useless. But if we can train our brains to do this constant self-reflection on the positive moments in our lives we can uncover our true gifts.
Let’s try it.
Think about a time today or yesterday when you felt really good about something you did. One of those moments where you could say to yourself, “That went really well.” It could be getting the motivation to go workout, leading a great meeting, giving good advice to a friend, or delivering a great presentation.
Now ask yourself this question: What was I doing when I was doing what I was doing well?
This question forces us to go deeper, to uncover our own unique methods of success: our talents.
Really think about the details of that moment. Replay it in your mind. Focus on all of the little things you were doing when you did what you did well: how you prepared, your nonverbal cues, your tone of voice, what time you set your alarm for in the morning, etc.
Write all of these things down. What do you do when you do what you do well?
When you can identify the details, steps, or methods of what you do well, you can repeat them. This is why positive self-reflection is so powerful. Unlike the obsessive replaying of your life’s negative moments, the end of positive self-reflection is new and useful knowledge.
And if you keep a journal like this long enough, you will have an entire curriculum on how to do what you do well.
And someone, someday will pay you to teach them to do it because you, yes you, are indispensable and unique.