I was 24 years old when I interviewed for a full-time media specialist position at a large and growing Methodist church in Ohio with a funny name called Ginghamsburg. They were averaging 1000 a weekend, had just moved into a new sanctuary with screens and cameras, and needed an expert to help understand and use the new technology.
I was a fresh graduate-to-be with intern and associate-level experience at three television stations and three post-production studio environments. I’d handled some gear but my resume suggested I knew more than I actually did. And I was eager to embellish whatever good thoughts others threw at me: Run sound? Sure! Live, multi-camera switching? Sure! Computer graphics? No problem!
I was a full-on practitioner of a philosophy that has served young workers everywhere:
Fake It Til You Make It.
The courage behind the sentiment is admirable, and entrepreneurs have used it to name a reality into which they might grow, such as the executives at Kutol. Being an entrepreneur at heart I am reluctant to throw water on the ability to think and act big. And my job worked out pretty well for me and for my employer, so the “fake it” philosophy isn’t all bad.
But the downside to faking it til you make it is that you can try to do everything.
Being a creative and communicator is especially prone to such fakery. Filmmaking, photography, graphic design, art design, writing, social media, creative direction, live production, stage craft, and on it goes – there are so many specialties and things to do. One person can never do it all well. But FOMO – the fear of missing out – can lead us to say yes to everything.
Eventually, I got tired of trying to do everything. So three years ago, I took a personality assessment.
A personality assessment freed me from the slavery of fakery.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an assessment unlike any other. (It has sold more than 4 million copies to date and was named Amazon’s bestselling book of 2013.) A lot of assessments focus on your limitations, even if by accident. They tell you you’re an introvert and a doer and inadvertently tell you that you are no good with people or you can’t think.
StrengthsFinder is different. It’s built on the premise that every of us has a unique combination of gifts – strengths – that form who we are. With so many unique strengths (here’s the full list of 34 strengths), the combinations that form each of us are endless.
Before I took the test, I expected mine to match my career experience. I anticipated having strengths such as Analytical, Communication, and Futuristic. But the results surprised me. Here is what the test said I am:
At first I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. But the results nagged me, and over a period of months I began to notice patterns in my interests and actions that matched. I went back and re-read the five descriptions. I came to a realization: I really am good at these five things.
Understanding My Strengths Was Life-Changing.
Perhaps this sounds self-evident or even arrogant. But in a way that I’d never done before, I began to own these characteristics in myself. I like the process of Ideation and diving deep with Intellection, based on regular Input and fueled by to Learner’s desire. And the ideas I enjoy work best when arranged by the plans of a Strategist.
I looked back on where I’d been and my career decisions made sense from this perspective – I loved acquiring books in publishing. I loved big ideas and strategizing to make them happen through my company Midnight Oil and, before that, at the big Methodist church in Ohio.
The more I began to own these strengths, the freer I felt to let go of other things I had in the past tried to acquire, such as the skills of a graphic designer or commercial filmmaker or the flair of a presenter. I am a generalist and a little easily distracted, which means I probably lack the singular focus to be best at any one of those many hard skills. Instead of feeling bound by this perceived weakness, I am now free to put my attention into my strengths.
Knowing My Strengths Frees Me To Turn My Weaknesses To My Advantage
Not only does knowing my strengths help me focus my life better, I can offset my weaknesses by surrounding myself with amazing friends, networks, staff and colleagues. When I celebrate what others can do, my perceived weakness turns into an opportunity, because I discover amazing talents that are better than my own. As my father often advised me, “surround yourself with people better than you are.”
I still enjoy making movies, graphic design, and many other hard skills of communication, and I enjoy teaching people, but I no longer feel the need to lay claim to everything, or to fake it in the hopes of making it. Now, as a Creative Director, I have found a role that suits my strengths well.
I wish I could claim that I’d made this career move strategically with my strengths in mind, but the reality is that I did it kind of blind – I kind of fell into it. My Christian faith suggests that God’s hand was in charge of these life transitions. The freedom part is that I no longer feel the need to do it all.
I haven’t “made it,” whatever that is, but I’m no longer going to fake it.
How might knowing your strengths change your thinking?
If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you’ll never be great at anything.Strengths-Based Leadership, p. 7