Exploring the issues that shape today's business world.

Find Your Happy Place

Four ways to unleash your natural talents and find happiness in life and business. By Derrick Lilly | Fall 2015

Summer Happy

For most of us, the pursuit of success starts with trying to right a weakness, brush up on an old skill, or dive into a development course for a chance to climb up the corporate ladder. But how far will that take you? How happy will that make you? And what if there are better ways to succeed in life and business?

“Everyone defines success differently, but when you look at most ‘successful’ people, you’ll see that they found something they’re good at, their work doesn’t feel like work because it’s a passion, they’re more fulfilled and less burned out, and they have more productive relationships,” explains Dr. Todd Dewett, author of Show Your Ink: Stories About Leadership and Life, professional speaker and “recovering” management professor.

“People who can’t stand or barely tolerate their work take that home with them and it affects all areas of their life.”

In fact, Gallup research suggests that people who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are “six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” Don’t you want to be one of them?

“Is your career choice going to make you happy when you’re 50, 60, or 70?” asks Dr. Dewett. “You need to ask yourself if you are in the position that is perfect for you. If you’re not, congrats on recognizing this. Don’t complain, don’t wallow, give yourself some time to back up your hunch, and then craft a very real plan.”

Crafting that plan is the biggest challenge for most of us, so here’s how to get started.

1. What do you really enjoy?

“What are you naturally drawn towards? Where do you gain attention and praise most effortlessly?” asks Dr. Dewett. “These may or may not be the same things, but they’re all indicators of what you’re likely to be really good at.”

For mid-careerists, he recommends looking back on projects, tasks and accomplishments that gave you the most pleasure. Which ones were most memorable? And what was it about the work that made it stand out? “These are the things you want to be developing skills for and positioning yourself to spend more time doing,” says Dr. Dewett.

For young professionals with limited experience to look back on, some handy tools include What Color is Your Parachute, a classic book that helps you identify possibilities and opportunities, says Dr. Dewett. He also encourages young professionals to find a strengths assessment tool—the most popular being Gallup’s StrengthsFinder.

This tool is built around more than 40 years of Gallup research, with the intention of helping people discover and develop their natural talents. StrengthsFinder identifies 34 of the most common talents, and provides in-depth analysis of the unique strengths you portray and how they play out in your life and career. The tool also gives insight into ways to take action and align your job and goals with those talents. The outcome, says Gallup, is that you’ll “find yourself in a much more positive and productive environment.”

2. Leverage your strengths

This “comes much more effortlessly, and produces much more joy than trying to deal with weaknesses,” says Dr. Dewett. “Everyone has a handful of things that aren’t their forte. The question is, as your career advances, which skill area or two—not five or 10—are most likely to trip you up and stop you from being the world-class auditor or partner, or whatever it is that you’re working towards. Develop those; your long-term plan must dictate the weaknesses you go after.”

“There can be a lot of growing pains with learning about yourself, and equally when teaching someone about something that they aren’t good at or lack confidence in,” adds Colleen Loeffler Phonwiang, CAE, director of Member Outreach with the Illinois CPA Society. “It’s much easier to enhance the strong skills. That’s why having a career that is a good fit for your talents makes you happier and proud of the product you create.”

3. Think chemistry as much as skill

We often hear about the “war for talent” and how every organization is competing for the best and brightest. While that’s true, says Dr. Dewett, there’s a lot more to it. “The war, honestly, is for chemistry. Everyone wants a team with good chemistry. But to get that, you have to leverage each person’s potential and strengths, appreciate how people relate to each other, and understand what each team member wants to do, not just what you need them to do,” he explains.

4. Give communication top priority

“What most people don’t do, particularly young professionals, is let their bosses know how they’re doing. That’s one of the simplest steps to take in advancing your career. You have to let your boss know how you feel about the trajectory of your career, projects and responsibilities, and your fit in the organization,” Dr. Dewett explains.

“Talk to your employer about your challenges or concerns to see if any adjustments can be made,” says Loeffler Phonwiang. “If you believe your talents are being wasted, you’re not helping the organization be successful. If you’re someone who they see value in, they’ll want to give you the tools and opportunities to succeed.”

At the end of the day, good team building is about respecting the uniqueness of the skills each person brings to the table. “If your organization doesn’t embrace a culture of developing its people, there are always other organizations that will appreciate what you offer,” Loeffler Phonwiang explains encouragingly. “Invest in yourself and the skills that will get you to the job that is the best fit for you.”

“When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists,” writes Tom Rath in StrengthsFinder 2.0. “So, a revision to the ‘you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be’ maxim might be more accurate: You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”