Want a Fulfilling Career? Focus on Your Weakness, Not Your Strengths
You focus on your strengths. You get hired. You work a lot. Then you die. How'd that tried-and-true career advice work out for you? Yes, it's true that focusing on your strengths will get you hired. Employers want people who are good at their jobs. But what about what’s good for you? Do you want a job that just makes you money? Or do you want more than that -- a truly fulfilling career that keeps you inspired and motivated? The hard truth is: fulfillment isn’t found in your strengths. It’s found in the soft places, the dark places, the places where you have plenty of room to grow. In other words, your weaknesses.
Your mess is your missionBut your fulfillment can’t be found in just any old weakness. Just because you suck at math doesn’t mean that a career as an actuary is your true calling. There’s one special kind of weakness that’s more like a tenderness, an old enemy you encounter again and again with an exasperated sigh, saying, “Not this again!” It’s your trauma. It’s your growth edge. It’s your mess. And it’s your mission. You were not put here on this earth to be a cog in a machine, performing tasks that you’re good at. You were put here on this earth to learn, to grow, to become more fully yourself. True growth can only occur when you’re out of your comfort zone. (Click here to tweet this career advice.)
Let’s see what this growth looks like in three actual jobs:
- Peter’s mess (and his mission) is initiative: left to his own devices, he’ll sit on the couch all day and watch TV. Instead of staying in his comfortable position where he’s told exactly what to do, he works hard to become a manager, where he’s the one who has to take the initiative. It’s much more challenging— and much more fulfilling.
- Nadia’s mess (and her mission) is her grief: her mother died when she was 12, and it turned her life upside down. Nadia becomes a chaplain to minister to the dying and those who have recently lost loved ones. Helping others with their grief helps her work through her own.
- Shawn’s mess (and her mission) is love. After being hurt deeply, she closed off her heart. Shawn becomes a preschool teacher, and opens up her heart just a tiny bit to each one of her kids. (Even Billy, despite the fact that Billy is a pint-sized jerk.)
Combine your weakness with your strengthsSo is it all about pain, suffering, and trauma? Does your career have to be entirely focused on your weakness for you to find healing and fulfillment? No. You get to leverage your strengths, too — but you can do it in a way that helps you face your weaknesses instead of avoiding them. Here are three more examples:
- Joe’s mess (and his mission) is his anger: his temper is always flaring up and causing trouble. Joe leverages his programming skills to get a job in software, but instead of simply remaining a coder, he pursues management to give him opportunities to manage a team — without yelling at them.
- Madison’s mess (and her mission) is self-doubt: she’s constantly afraid that someone will find out that she’s just making it all up as she goes along. Madison leverages her cooking strength to become a celebrated chef, and instead of hiding from publicity, she faces her self-doubt to stand in the spotlight.
- Orson’s mess (and his mission) is his integrity. He made some big mistakes when he was young, and he’s got major regrets. Orson leverages his business and social strengths to become a CEO, where he avoids temptations to cut corners and runs his company with transparency and integrity.
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