Take a moment and think of 5 of the most talented people you know.
Did you come up with 5? Now take a moment and think of 5 of your heroes.
Are these people one and the same? Or did you come up with different answers?
Now, think of why you classify your heroes as heroic. You probably believe that they make a difference in the world or have contributed good. My heroes are Marjorie Hinckley because of her faith and optimism, Corrie Ten Boom because of her dedicated life to goodness and faith despite living through evil, my mom because of her every day compassion and love, and my husband because of his gentleness, humor, and propensity to think good things.
Maybe your heroes and people you view as talented are one and the same. Awesome! Maybe, like me, you tend to think of different people for the two questions. But why? All of these heroes I mentioned are very talented, but their talents are more subtle. They don’t receive trophies or perform on stage or get lots of votes. Performance talents can make such a great impact on the world, but non-performing talents can make as big if not a bigger impact on those around them. In small ways and big ways, heroes contribute to those around them…..and that’s talent!
Everyone wants to believe they are making a contribution of some sort, but it can be really difficult to recognize our own unique gifts and talents. While it is a personal discovery journey for everyone, here are a few tips that can help you become more aware of what your gifts and talents might be.
Remember that Not All Talents are Visible
It can be really difficult to find talents when our culture focuses on performance talents like sports, art, music, and even outgoing people that create large networks of influence in their careers. Like I just mentioned, these talents get trophies and A+ report cards and win elections. There’s nothing wrong with that- music and art and sports enrich our lives. But, I think that there are many more talents that are never ranked on achievement scales. Try to brainstorm what invisible or subtle talents there are and then see if you fit any of them. Maybe you are really good at noticing people who feel left out of the group. Maybe you have a calming influence around you. Maybe you see the good in others and spread happiness to those around you. Maybe you are slow to jump to conclusions. Maybe you’re nonjudgmental. Maybe you fight for equality. Maybe you are a good problem-solver. Maybe you’re a good researcher and scientific. Maybe you’re a good reader. Maybe you help people feel comfortable around you. The list an go on and on. Think back to your heroes and try to remember that many talents don’t take the lime-light and that’s okay. It’s more than ok…it’s still a wonderful talent.
Take a Personality Test
One way to find our personal strengths is to take a personality test. Several tests will outline strengths of the personality in the results section. There are so many different personality tests out there, and I won’t go into all of the research and validitity and reliability behind them different ones. For our purposes, simply find a serious one. Sorry- all the Buzzfeed personality tests- like which Disney character are you most like- probably won’t cut it. As an example, you can take a free test at 16personalities.com, which is largely based on the Meyer’s Briggs, or take the test in The Color Code book. You could also take 123 Test’s personality test, which they say is based on the Big 5 Personality Traits. These traits were found doing factor analysis (math) are the most scientifically studied. The results section will appear in a more scientific manner and it does not have as many strengths neatly laid out as other tests.
If you and/or family members believe the test seems to accurately reflect you, pay special attention to what the description says about your strengths. You may find that it outlines positive traits that you never really realized before. If you don’t believe it accurately reflects you then try again or take another test. Remember that these personality tests are self-report surveys. So, they don’t magically guess the right answers. The answers will depend on your mood and idea of what fits you and could vary depending on the day or if someone else took it for you. As Oscar Wilde supposedly said,
Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
I love that slightly snarky way of saying that the world needs you. So while you might take a personality test that categorizes you with other people and outlines strengths and talents associated with that personality type, remember that you are the only one who is you! You have unique talents and experiences and thoughts to contribute to the world whether you realize it or not. There is no one “right” personality. Everyone has different strengths (sometimes even opposite of each other) that contribute to the world.
Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths Test
What easier way to find strengths than to take a strengths test?! Positive psychologists developed the VIA survey of character strengths. You can find it at viacharacter.org or authentic happiness.com. It is 240 questions and has a list of 24 different character values and the results will tell you which ones you scored high in. If you have a difficult time taking it for yourself then take it together with a loved one. It’s pretty cool to recognize values that you live by and exhibit. Living and acting on these values makes a great contribution to the world. All of these values are necessary and wonderful in our community and world. Remember, just because the test only tells you the top 5 values it does not mean you do not still have strengths in the other values or can’t continue to develop them. Martin Seligman, a famous positive psychologist and director of Positive Psychology Center at UPENN, said,
The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness. A life that does this is pregnant with meaning, and if God comes at the end, such a life is sacred. (Seligman p. 260)¹
Remember Talents can Grow and Be Developed
It is so tempting to only think of talents and strengths as something that comes easily. While this can be the case, it isn’t always true. Talents can come to us by lots of sweat and tears and hard work. Even if a talent does initially come easily, it can still be developed further. Dr. Carol Dweck has fascinating research on this topic. She found that those who have a growth mindset instead of a belief that talents and abilities are fixed were more able to develop them and reach their full potential.²
Elizabeth Bennett demonstrates this concept perfectly. After Mr. Darcy complained that he does not have the talent of easily conversing with other people, Elizabeth said,
My fingers do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault-because I will not take the trouble of practising [sic]. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution. (Austen, loc 2243)
Perfect. Simply perfect. Thank you, Jane Austen.
Find Joy in Being You Rather Than Comparing
There is enough talents to go around. Just because someone else plays the piano well or makes friends easily does not mean that you can’t as well. Try to catch yourself comparing yourself to others and remember that you can be you. Jane Austen was a great writer, and so was Victor Hugo. Adele has an amazing voice, and so does Carrie Underwood. Their talents don’t take away from each other’s. Each brings joy to people around them.
Okay, you may be thinking that this is fine and all, but it’s not just about expressing talents differently because you definitely don’t write as well as Jane Austen or Victor Hugo. I like the Parable of the Talents in the Bible for this reason. Some people were given 5 talents and some 2 talents and some 1. The point that Christ was teaching us in the parable is talents are about how we try to use them to serve, not how much is given us. If we try to develop our talents and make them grow, then we will bless the lives of those around us when we share them. And, as Dr. Seligman tells us, it will make our life fulfilling. It may not be on a world stage, but your talents will shine to those around you.
You may not have the same personality strengths as your heroes, but that’s a good thing. I love the orchestra analogy. We all have different talents (instruments), and together we create a beautiful community (or orchestra).
“The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world,” said Joseph Wirthlin. “Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony” (Wirthlin, April 2008).³
Pay Attention to Compliments
Sadly, we often focus on criticisms and brush away compliments. One of the easiest ways we can find our strengths and talents is to start remembering and paying attention to the compliments people say to us. If you feel comfortable, you can ask your friends and family what they think you are good at. Other people can be really good at seeing the good in us-we just have to see it ourselves.
Pray or Meditate
I believe that when we pray our Heavenly Father will help us understand what our talents are so that we can spread His goodness in the world. If you aren’t religious, much good can come from meditating. When we let go of our anxieties and rushing thoughts and simply be still then we can gain important insights into ourselves.
Find What You Are Passionate In
One great way to find our talents is to consider what we are interested in and passionate about. It could range from an activity, like cooking, to an principle, like justice. If you already know what your interests are then pursue them! Educate yourself. Practice. Remember to have a growth mindset to develop these talents.
If you aren’t sure what your interests are then try to have an open mind about trying new things. Keep pondering the question and pray or meditate. Connect with friends and family to explore new things together.
As Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
I love that quote because someone who is believed by most to be brilliant says it simply comes down to being curious about the world. Find what you are curious about.
To Sum It Up:
³ Wirthlin, J. B. (2008, Apr). Concern for the one. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/concern-for-the-one?lang=eng
Austen, J. (1813). Pride and prejudice.