Here’s How to Identify Your Truly Unique Gifts
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
Review the perfectly written chapters of your life.
I love describing exercises for personal development. I find a lot of meaning in sharing practical ideas that others can find helpful. And this topic is a particularly meaningful one.
You are special. There, I said it. The combination of your qualities and characteristics is unique among eight billion people. Nobody sees the world in the same way you do. And nobody has the same abilities and experiences as you. The intersection of who you are and what you’ve been through is a superpower.
The sooner you realize your superpowers, the sooner you can harness them. Content creators trying to design their best work, founders trying to become their leadership best selves, graduates finding their best career path — all can be powerfully informed by a deep awareness of their unique gifts.
Why your gifts matter
Are our strengths more important to work on than our weaknesses? In some ways, yes. We succeed through our strengths. Gallup, the folks behind the StrengthsFinder assessment (now CliftonStrengths), highlight that strength-based development leads to 7 to 23% higher employee engagement and 8 to 18% increased performance. In my own coaching work, I also see this anecdotally all the time.
That being said, this research here isn’t as water-tight as popular opinion would suggest. There are other studies suggesting that corrective interventions are just as effective, and some pretty good arguments that caution against the sole focus on, or overuse of, our strengths. The really important and missing factor here is relevance. If you’re trying to be a better CEO, building your already strong engineering skills won’t help much. But if you’re really bad at delegating, investing in growing that capability is going to have a much higher return.
This is why self-awareness matters so much. Research by Tasha Eurich suggests that only 10 to 15 percent of us are truly aware of our own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. And, because we each have an in-built negativity bias, we tend to notice our strengths a lot less. We take them for granted. We live with these unique gifts for decades and never take the opportunity to objectively look at and appreciate them.
How to uncover your gifts
There are also plenty of strengths-based assessments and online personality tests you could take. I’m not the biggest fan of assessments for their own sake, but I love them as additional inputs into our self-awareness. While they offer no real “answers,” I do believe they do raise some really good questions.
An amazing input into uncovering your own strengths is to just ask! So often, one of my first assignments to my clients is “go and solicit feedback from ten friends or colleagues.” Asking others what they think makes you special is a gift to your perspective that most of us don’t take the time to do.
What I’m really excited about sharing with you, though, is the opportunity to reflect on your life as a way of mining for strengths. I suggest the life map exercise to my clients even more often than the feedback homework. It’s a great way to take stock of your journey so far, and can often build a deep sense of appreciation. A life map is also a way to look at your unique story and see what makes you special.
Your perfectly written story
The exercise is called your “perfectly written story,” and it starts with a life map. You can read the article in the link above, but it’s as easy as this: take a blank sheet of paper and map out your life journey up to this point. That’s it. It can be a picture or illustration, it can be a series of symbols or doodles. It can be a chart with your life events plotted against time.
Take some time to draw this out and think through the details and the story. This is “your story,” the novel of your life. Next, divide that story into five equal chapters. For example, if you’re 40 years old then you would divide it into 8-year segments. Feel free to draw lines, add images, give the chapters names — whatever you feel like doing.
Reflect on each chapter of your life. What were you doing? Who were you? What was different or special about that time? In each chapter, find the gifts that you received. Look for the unique experiences that gave you a skill, some new knowledge, or developed a strength.
Stay away from any deep, traumatic places, but know that the painful experiences gave you something, too. Look back into childhood and see what strengths you developed, even at a very young age. For example, I didn’t realize until after this exercise that my parents’ background as ministers developed a deep sense of empathy and compassion in me when I was still a child, something that serves me well as an adult and a professional coach.
Finally, write down a summary of your superpowers. What gifts do you see in your perfectly written story? Don’t take what you find for granted. Just because you’ve lived with a superpower all your life doesn’t mean it’s not important and special to the world.
Bringing it all together
I’d challenge you to go a step further and synthesize what you learn here with your broader inventory of your strengths. Add to this feedback you’ve received from others, what you know about yourself, assessments, performance reviews, etc. Some of your strengths are innate, characteristics that you’ve had since childhood. Some were forged in happiness or hardship, through the experiences detailed in your life map.
If you find yourself curious about “where to from here,” remember that the story you just explored is your own. If it truly is “perfectly written,” what would the sixth chapter of the story be? What beautiful next chapter have the first five helped to set up? And, most importantly — don’t forget who the author is.
Good luck on your journey.
Originally published in Mind Cafe