…whether to the cashier at Price Chopper or host or hostess at your favorite brunch place – you almost always get a smile from the person being complimented?  …She/he stands up a little taller and may even quicken her pace.  Yes, when our strengths and contributions are noticed, it’s ENERGIZING…IT REFUELS US!

But whether we’re a customer, co-worker or supervisor, a person’s strengths and talents are not always evident to us…OUR PERSONAL PREFERENCES OR UNCONSCIOUS ASSUMPTIONS AND BIASES can keep us from seeing their abilities or limitations.  

Do you remember the Jane Elliott story?  Shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination, Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher in a small Iowa town  – came up with an experiment for her class.  She divided the children by eye color…and announced to her students that the pigment in their eyes indicated their intelligence.  Specifically, she told the children that the brown-eyed kids were smart, while the blue-eyed kids were not.  In fact, the blue-eyed kids, she told them, did not have the same sized brains as the “brownies.”  She also praised the brown-eyed kids as hard-working, thoughtful, dependable and honest.  She’d clasp them on their backs, offering encouragement… Jane said that the “blueys” (meaning the blue-eyed children) were dirty, shifty, lazy, and dishonest…And you can’t depend on them…!

Read about the impact of this experiment and arbitrary belief system at:  http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/07/jane-elliot-and-the-blue-eyed-children-experiment/

Belief systems – even if untrue! – can keep us from recognizing our unique gifts and talents!   I recently read the novel “Icy Sparks” – in many ways autobiographical – by Gwyn Hyman Rubio.   Like Rubio, the main character (Icy Sparks) grew up in rural South Georgia with a neurological disorder; in Rubio’s case, it was epilepsy, in Icy’s case, it was Tourette Syndrome. 

The beliefs held by others greatly influenced this young girl’s childhood.  To avoid the harsh judgments of her classmates, a teacher and other community members, Icy created a limited, tightly protected world.  Though extremely bright and good-hearted, she had no sense of her self-worth.

This all changes, however, when Icy decides to join five different church choirs.  For the first time, she experiences the joy of using her special talent AND being recognized for it! The impact is profound!  Here’s what she shares in the epilogue:

So what do I care – if in these genes of mine – I also carry croaks, curses and jerks…if I have the urge to flap my arms and fly? If I sometimes let my feelings show and expose the pokeweed inside me, I say, “So be it,” because in these genes I also carry nourishment, a voice so sweet that it can soothe the angriest spirit, and eyes that not only pop out to look at the sun but also are curious and eager to learn.”

Icy’s self-confidence and belief in “her value” have clearly blossomed…And so has her world and the opportunities that she sees for herself! 

It’s easy to be fooled!  I have met many people who presented as if they had little to offer; below that veneer, there was tremendous potential and talent.  

As supervisors and co-workers, it can be helpful to recognize the  assumptions that we make AND TO THEN LOOK FOR A PERSON’S STRENGTHS by:

  • Observing them on-the-job – working with a client, leading a group,…
  • Speaking with co-workers, customers and the employee herself,
  • Making a point to see, read, etc. the individual’s completed work and
  • Engaging individual in work-related conversations and LISTENING WELL!

AND IF WE ARE UNABLE TO IDENTIFY OUR OWN STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES, ask yourself: Do I hold beliefs and assumptions that cloud my ability to see myself clearly? 

And then begin to look for your strengths and talents!  ASK YOURSELF:

What did I enjoy doing at age 10?  Sometimes by looking back into the past, we can get a glimpse of who we really are and what we loved doing before others started telling us what we should or shouldn’t do.

What do I find myself doing now?  Sometimes the things we do without thinking or being paid for are things that we naturally enjoy or are good at.

What do I like most about myself?  What am I most proud of? (specific achievements, talents, personal characteristics, etc.)

 What comes so naturally to me that I think it’s “normal” or that anyone could do it?  

What do I do (or have done in the past) that I enjoy and causes me to be so absorbed that I lose all track of time?

WHEN YOU BEGIN TO DISCOVER (or rediscover) whatever it is that makes you feel most alive, FIND A WAY TO DO MORE OF IT!… 

Not only will you feel energized and invigorated, BUT YOU ALSO NEVER KNOW WHEN AN OPPORTUNITY WILL PRESENT ITSELF!

So as you work towards that right career fit for you, WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO TRY NOW?  …temporary assignments, internships, advisory roles, volunteer opportunities, clubs/interest groups?  Even interviewing an individual in the field to which you aspire can be enlightening!

You may find that this new direction is not for you…before you invest a lot of time and financial resources!  OR YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF REALLY ENJOYING IT…

AND MOTIVATED TO TAKE THE NEXT STEPS!  This is your clue to where your unique gifts and talents lie!

 And as you take these steps, be sure to:

  • Recognize your accomplishments – no matter how small they seem. Jot down ten things each night that you feel good about from that day.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Usually we come out less than the person we compare ourselves to.  Instead, notice differences; don’t judge them.  Remember you are unique!
  • And think about what enabled individuals like Stephen Hawking, John Nash, Rosa Parks and Gwyn Hyman Rubio to achieve their goals and not allow others to define their worth and abilities to contribute? Think about who inspires you to step outside of others’ expectations for you!


Marsha Lazarus, MBA
Career Coach/Workplace Trainer

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