“You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s more cute than true.
Yep. Sorry to crush that lovely idea that Ms. Honey planted ever-so-fondly into your head back in the first grade, but it’s a reality. And before you come at me with pitchforks and torches, calling me a pessimistic, dream-crushing naysayer, hear me out.
This often-repeated maxim is misguided.
New York Times bestselling author and Gallup researcher Tom Rath has spent years researching why this hopeful saying doesn’t add up to life’s equation of maximizing ones’ potential.
To demonstrate this point, he revisits the story of Notre Dame’s beloved Rudy Ruettiger. The 5’6, 165-pound former powerplant worker, despite lacking the physical ability to play college football, busted his butt for years to get accepted into Notre Dame so he could join the football practice squad. After two years of taking a daily beating in practice, he suited up for the final game of his senior year where he went in for a single play, in a blowout contest, and sacked the quarterback to end the game.
He was carried off the field and hailed a hero.
It’s heartwarming. We love an underdog, and the amount of heart he gave is more than admirable. Rath’s point, however, is that Rudy spent thousands of hours dedicated to football practice to only make one single play in a game that was already a blowout.
Our culture is driven to overcome deficits and weaknesses in epic fashion — to come off as conqueror. However, is the path of most resistance really the best after all? What if Rudy had harnessed that same amount of time, heart and effort into something that he already had a natural talent for?
“You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
The idea is, we can get a greater return on our investment if we invest more in our strengths than we do our weaknesses. Seventy-seven percent of parents in the United States think that a student’s lowest grade deserves the most time and attention. Why don’t we commit that devotion to an area where the student has a greater potential to excel to the next level?
I want to change your mindset and show you how to recognize your strengths, build them through investment and continuously develop them to become your best self. The strength of your personal brand will be the most important investment you will ever make.
Stop obsessing over weaknesses and recognize your strengths
Let’s look at the story of the ultimate underdog. Everyone knows the biblical story of David and Goliath. The tale of the Philistines’ greatest warrior, who was single-handedly wiping-out the Israelite forces, but whose demise came at the hand of a teenage shepherd boy.
Goliath was not only a skilled, master solider, but also a literal giant of a man who had spent his life fighting. When David determined that he was going to take Goliath down, he didn’t place his focus on what he couldn’t do in comparison to his enemy.
David could have spent hours pumping iron, drinking protein shakes and duking it out in the ring to try and prepare to match the giant’s skill, but the story would have ended in a less infamous outcome, not in David’s favor.
What did the kid do? He focused on what he already possessed, strong faith in God and a solid knack for slinging stones. The result? A fallen giant and a nation saved.
Start recognizing your strengths people.
Professor Chad Little, marketing and public relations director for the Marriott School of Business, who teaches team building classes bases his classes on strength finding. “Figure what fuels you. What areas that reenergize you,” Little said. “You don’t have to take a test to figure it out, just experiment. When they begin focusing on strengths, people’s eyes begin to open and they really start to take off.”
Ask those you look-up-to to share with you what your strengths are. Individuals remember criticism but respond to praise. Take a Gallup Strength Finder 2.0 test. Be self-aware. Look for patterns in your life to see where you excel. It may seem odd but write yourself a “love letter” of all the things you admire about what makes you, you and highlight the things you do well at.
If you’re a killer writer who knocks ‘em dead in the Twitter world, don’t start agonizing over the fact that those same fans aren’t drooling over your Pinterest page. If you’re Michael Phelps, don’t ditch the pool to try and become a track star. Keep dominating in the water, win more medals and cement your spot in the history books as the greatest.
Recognize what you’re already good at and work to become great.
“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison
Make an investment of your talents to build strengths
ROI, or return on investment, measures the amount of the return on an investment, relative to that investment’s cost. It’s an essential part of the measuring business success. Correctly allocating your resources to generate a profit can make or break your company.
This applies equally to your personal brand.
Take Demosthenes for example. He was a political leader and one the greatest lawyers and orators in all ancient Greece from 384-322 B.C. He rose to this status due to the investment he made in his natural talents.
He spent his time studying great speeches, philosophy and law. Demosthenes talked and learned from great mentors and thinkers of his time. He practiced his speeches on the beach in front of massive waves to train his voice to project over the noisy court rooms of his day. He even built a small cellar beneath his house where he could go practice his speeches without being disturbed.
Demosthenes knew what he was good at and worked to become the best. He didn’t invest his time in trying to become an Olympic champion or great naval explorer. He put the time where he’d get the biggest bang for his buck and a higher ROI.
Tom Rath’s Gallup strengths equation is simple: Talent x Investment= Strength.
Dr. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and expert in human performance, teaches the necessity of what he calls “deliberate practice.” This is the idea. You first set well-defined goals of what you want to master. Then you seek a mentor or coach to provide feedback as you begin trying activities that are beyond your current skill-set and get you out of your comfort zone.
This part is not easy. It takes trial and error and experimentation to find what works best for you. Investments require dedication and energy on your part but are worth their weight in gold in their return for your personal brand.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
Develop your strengths to become your best self
Mark Twain once recounted a story of a man who died and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Seeking the wisdom of the saint, the man asked a question that he had wondered his entire life.
He said, “Saint Peter, I have been interested in military history for many years. Who was the greatest general of all time?” Saint Peter quickly responded, “Oh that’s a simple question. It’s that man right over there.”
“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed. “I knew that man on earth, and he was just a common laborer.” “That’s right, my friend,” assured Saint Peter. “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general.”
Far too many people are running the race of life with their very best efforts but are heading in the wrong direction.
Now is the time to recognize the talents and gifts you have been blessed with, invest in them, and experiment and apply them to become the very best version of yourself. Promote these developed strengths. Exemplify them in your social media accounts, online portfolios, resumes and most importantly in your interactions with others.
Your personal brand and reputation are the most valuable assets you have. Do your part to enrich them.
“Hide not your talents.
They for use were made.
What’s a sundial in the shade?”
– Benjamin Franklin
Talon Hatch is senior studying public relations at BYU. He serves as the VP of Publications for BYU’s PRSSA Chapter.
Feature Photo by Piotr Lohunko