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I posted this short note on LinkedIn:

cliftonstrengths talent

"One of the [top performers’] mindsets is choosing to invest time in learning skills that will strengthen your natural talents. Capitalizing on talents and unique strengths will yield a higher ROI (you can only get better and better by capitalizing on your strengths) than trying to master a skill that might not be natural for you.

In "Now, Discover Your Strengths," the authors tell a story how Tiger Woods worked on his weakness (bunker play) just enough to make sure it was acceptable and wouldn't hurt his game. Then he would spend most of his time on perfecting his most dominant strength (his swing)."

I got a few comments about this note on LinkedIn, and especially loved the counter question:

“How about extraordinarily well-rounded?”

It made me pause and revisit this idea… 

A few people have told me over the years that I’m talented in many different ways, and when I think about it objectively, I see that my eclectic set of skills might signal that I in fact possess these many talents.

Here’s a short list of skills I’ve acquired over the years:

  1. I learned photography at age 9 and I now do it professionally

  2. I learned to sew and knit clothes when I was a teenager and for a few years would make my own clothes, since we couldn’t afford much. I now occasionally create simple outfits for my clients for their “dream” photo shoots

  3. My grandmother used to make these intricate flowers out of waxed fabric and crepe paper, and taught me her techniques. I use these skills now to create props for photography sets

  4. I’m multilingual and have a Master’s degree in linguistics and translation; I worked as a translator for eight years after graduating

  5. As a pretty tech-savvy individual, I learn software programs fairly quickly: MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, marketing tools for social media platforms, CRM tools, etc.

  6. I know the basics of graphic design and typography and can lay out marketing collateral in any graphic design program, as well as create graphic assets in Illustrator and Photoshop

  7. I can edit videos and create short “movies”

  8. I studied project and product management and excel at project management, but not really interested in product management

  9. Programming languages: I learned HTML and CSS when one of my translation clients needed to have his website localized in Russian and most importantly needed someone to make updates on his website in Cyrillic (this was years ago and Unicode wasn’t always working properly; he needed a native speaker to do this, so I was both translating his materials and managing his website for a few years). I also learned basic JavaScript to create animations for my own websites. While working with a group of iOS developers in San Francisco, I started learning Objective-C, because... why not?

  10. I write well (without the ChatGPT ;-)) which was confirmed a while back by my university professors

  11. I’m naturally good at dancing. After one year of ballroom dance training about 5 years ago, I did my first dance showcase in front of a live audience (even though as a child I was terrified of being on stage and in the spotlight)

  12. My friends and coaching clients tell me that my “superpowers are incredible analysis and strong [active] listening skills”

When I myself look at this list, I think “Wow, you’ve got some impressive skills!” and in a sense it would be fair to say that I myself am “extraordinarily well-rounded.”

But am I really? Can I do all these 12 things equally well? Do they all bring me equal amounts of joy or put me in a state of flow?

The truth is that only 2 out of 12 fall into the category of my “zone of genius”: 1) people photography and editing people photos and 2) coaching conversations and any preparation work associated with the coaching conversations. 

Dancing falls into the category of a hobby: I love it, it definitely brings me joy and I try to do it often. But if I don’t do it, it doesn’t make me feel that I’m missing out on life or that I am not fulfilling my life’s purpose.

The other skills on the list feel more like chores and I would gladly delegate those to someone else who’s much better at those!

Only 2 out of 12 make me want to deepen my knowledge and get even better at, so that I can provide a greater value to those I serve.

For example, when I started my talk show ChitChat with Katya during the pandemic, and appeared as a guest on other people’s podcasts, I realized that I needed to improve my ability to formulate thoughts faster and more eloquently when I speak (it is much easier for me to do it in writing). So now rather than spending time on, say, mastering my InDesign skills, I prefer to focus attention on my public speaking skills. I feel passionately about what I do and I need to be able to share my message with the world in an eloquent and succinct way. Graphic design can be delegated to someone else who will enjoy it, rather than feel drained by it.

As I was thinking about this “well-rounded” vs “extraordinary” question and my ability to acquire eclectic skills quickly, I realized that the reason I learn fast and am continuously looking for things to learn is because one of my talents (within CliftonStrengths framework) is Learner.

Learners are folks who enjoy learning for the sake of learning. They constantly crave it. I’ve talked to and coached quite a few people with Learner as their top 5 talents and they do indeed have many interests and skills.

However, if learning does not come easily to someone, it has the opposite effect: they become self-critical, because they cannot learn a seemingly “simple” skill, comparing themselves to someone who does it so easily or says that it is easy.

But perhaps they do not need to invest time in trying to learn something that doesn’t come naturally to them. Perhaps, the better, more productive and more fulfilling way to approach the acquisition of new skills is to look at what you naturally are great at already, what brings you the greatest satisfaction, and develop additional skills around that.


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