Start With Your Strengths

by Scott on January 28, 2014

Today I’m starting a new series called Achieve where I will discuss the process of achievement – from start to finish.

Know YourselfThe process to achieve your most important goals can be grueling.  You have to fight.  You have to strategize.  You have to stay positive.  You have to believe.  And you need a bit of luck.  I’ve fought plenty of these battles in my life.  When I was a Midshipman at the Naval Academy, there were times when I didn’t think I would make it to graduation day.  I struggled a lot my first year and had one too many unpleasant meetings with high-ranking officials to discuss my fate.  But I kept moving forward – 1,424 days – until the day I graduated.  And I’m happy I did it.  It changed my life.

There was also the time I met an amazing lady (my wife) in Newport, RI and had to move to Seattle, WA (3000 miles away) two months later.  We committed to a long-distance relationship and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to move back a year later.  The process of being away from her was difficult – especially since I didn’t know if life would ever bring us back together.  I kept the faith and trusted that it would work out.  And it did.  That changed my life too.

Today, there is Margin of Excellence.  I started this journey almost three years ago with the idea to create a business I’m passionate about.  The “passion” piece comes naturally.  I love what I do or I wouldn’t do it.  The business piece is a struggle.  And I have an MBA!  Goes to show you how well the educational system prepares us for real life challenges :-)  Needless to say, building this has been quite a process.  But the process has taught me more about myself than anything I’ve ever done before.  This will eventually change my life too.

So those are some important goals I’ve had in my life and what I went through to achieve them.

How do you make the process easier?  Is here a magic formula?

Once you have an idea for a goal where’s the best place to start?

Your Strengths

Before you pursue a goal, you should start by first understanding your strengths and how you will most naturally get from point A to B.  Without a certain level of self-awareness, you may get lost in the grueling process and not reach the finish line.  Your strengths are where your greatest opportunity for success lies.

Unfortunately, most of us have little sense about our talents and strengths, much less the ability to build our lives around them.  It took me a while to discover my strengths (and I’m still learning about them).  We have been told by our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses to fix our weaknesses.   So we invest in our weaknesses and never achieve the type of success we want.  We never become “world class.”  Instead, we become “middle class.”

How do you learn about your strengths?

One way to learn about them is through an assessment like the StrengthsFinder.  This is one of my favorite tools.  All my coaching clients take it.  It’s a web-based interview that analyzes your instinctive reactions and presents you with your five most dominate strengths – such as Achiever, Futuristic, Empathy, or Communication.  You receive a detailed description of your strengths and ways to leverage them to get powerful results.

Once you identify your strengths you can begin to build your life around them.  They are the foundation for who you are and where you have the most potential.

Talents & Skills:  The Difference

Let me talk for a minute about talents vs. skills because it’s easy to confuse them.  Writing, math, public speaking, and leadership are skills.  You can become better at them with practice.  You may have some underlying talents (like analytical or communication) that help you build each skill, but they are skills.  If you have the passion and time to develop a skill you can become a world-class performer.

Talents are different.  They are your unique abilities.  The best way for me to explain this is to give you an example.  My wife took the StrengthsFinder assessment and one of her Top-5 strengths is Empathy.  She has the ability to sense the emotions of those around her.  She can feel what others are feeling as though the emotions are her own.

This is not one of my talents.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about others or lack emotional intelligence.  It just means that I connect with others differently.  I’m much less spontaneous and demonstrative than her.  I could read a dozen books about empathy and it will never become one of my dominant talents.  That’s not to say I can’t manage it.   I can hone one of my other talents to understand and connect with others.  I can take a course to learn active listening skills.  I can establish a routine to spend quality time with others.  These are all skills I can develop to get a result that she gets more naturally.

Now let’s look at one of my strengths – Competition.  When I look at the world I’m distinctively aware of other people’s performance.  Their performance is the ultimate yardstick for me.  It’s a win-lose world for me.

This is not one of her talents.  It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like winning.  It just means that she has a different motivation for achieving an outcome than me.

Could she read books or take a class to become more competitive?  Probably not.  However, she could use one of her other talents to reach a desired outcome.  She could set goals and try to beat one of her previous records, rather than an opponent’s.   These are ways she might get a result that I get more naturally.

So what does this mean for you?

Before you embark on a journey to achieve a particular goal, you should first become familiar with your strengths.  As I mentioned earlier, the process to achieve your goals can be grueling.  You want to make sure you’re well prepared for the process by first becoming familiar with who you are as a person.  This will help you reach your goal much more effectively.

Imagine you’re the captain of a ship and you’re about to embark on a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  You’ve never seen the ship before and when you step onboard for the first time you realize it’s powered by sail.  This is a problem if you were expecting to drive an engine powered vessel.   Your strategy to cross the Atlantic will change.  Perhaps you might change your destination entirely.

Like the captain, you also have a vehicle to get from point A to B on the path to success.  The vehicle is powered by your strengths.  Before you choose a destination and create a plan to get there, first get familiar with them.  What makes you unique?

What makes you – YOU?

Then use your strengths to achieve the outcome you desire.

Have you taken the StrengthsFinder?  If so, what are your Top 5 strengths?

My Top 5:  Competition|Includer|Futuristic|Achiever|Self-Assurance


Update: The Life Planning Kit is now in the shop.  Buy it today to set your life on a new and exciting direction.  

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley J January 28, 2014 at 10:50 am


I tell your post always come when I need that re-check on myself. There are so many days I get up and wonder if I am going down the correct path but with a post like this one I look at my post-it note with my 5 strengths to remind me who I am and confirm my path and journey.

Thanks Scott!


Scott January 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Hi Shelley, thanks for the comment. Glad you keep your strengths close to you. They’re important. They’ll get you to the finish line.


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