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The Blog

What Makes You Great?

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I have a friend who’s a journalist (for the sake of this article, I’ll call him Joe), who has a habit of posting a “question of the day” on his facebook page. The questions range from the seemingly frivolous to quite deep, and are always thought-provoking (it’s part of what makes him a great journalist!). Sometimes, they’re phrased as regular questions, and sometimes as requests. Last week, I was intrigued by a particular question and the answers that followed. The question, quite simply, was “tell me the three best things about you.” Followed by a bonus question, “tell me the three best things about me.” 

I myself grappled with the request. Not with telling Joe what his best qualities were -- that was easy; but with sharing my own. I literally typed and erased and retyped my answer THREE TIMES before taking a gulp and hitting enter. What was getting in the way for me was the fact that I didn’t want to appear ego-centric. 

It didn’t help that, as I watched folks respond, their answers were all about Joe -- everyone was sharing what they thought his best qualities were, nobody was sharing what their own best qualities were.  

Huh. 

This got me thinking about how we have been programmed to believe that sharing our strengths, verbalizing our strengths, talking about our strengths is BRAGGING. It’s BOASTFUL. It’s ARROGANT. It’s time to set the record straight. 

Folks, it is not arrogant to know and own what you’re great it. Nor is it arrogant to speak of that greatness, when appropriate. When someone asks you what makes you great, it is absolutely appropriate to respond, and to do so with conviction. Could you do it? Do it right now. What makes you great? What are your three best qualities? 

My guess is that some of you can do this silently, in your head. Some of you can write down your answers. Some of you might even be able to whisper them either to yourself or to a trusted friend. But if I asked you and your coworkers to stand up in your office, get folks’ attention and share, “hey guys, I just want to share that my greatest strengths are _______________”, you’d balk.  Moreover, it wouldn’t be quite so challenging to do the opposite exercise, sharing your weaknesses.  

What the heck is this about? 

I’ll tell you what it’s about. It’s about what I said earlier -- the misguided idea that sharing our strengths is a form of BRAGGING. And it’s about an underlying notion that if we are good at something, if we have strength in a particular area, we can never make a mistake in said area. And THAT is a set up if I ever saw one. 

Just because you have a particular skill, does not mean that you will never get it wrong. Michael Jordan has been known to miss a 3-point shot; Olympic champions have been known to come in 2nd -- or even 3rd -- from time to time, in races that they specialize in. The most skilled authors have made a typo or two (mea culpa, my friends, mea culpa). 

So, it’s time for a paradigm shift of sorts. Let’s ditch the idea that being good at something is the same as being perfect at something. Let’s lose the notion that owning our strengths is boastful. And let’s each start embracing and sharing our gifts OPENLY, so that we can all benefit as a collective.  

Bottom-line: Knowing and acknowledging your strengths is as important -- and maybe more important -- as knowing and acknowledging your weaknesses. You simply cannot play to your strengths if you don’t acknowledge what they are. And whatever it is you are working toward, whatever group you are contributing to? You cannot and will not show up in service, if you aren’t willing to acknowledge the gifts you are serving up.