Read this if you cannot see what is good and unique about you
Growing up, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be
We were told it was just a matter of hard work and dedication.
We were told it was about our attitude.
We were told that it could be done, but it wouldn't be easy because success is not just handed to you.
So you spend the 12 years of elementary and high school education, believing that these are the fundamental laws of success, and if you just put your head down, work hard, endure the pain...you'll win. Your success is inevitable.
This advice is not entirely wrong, but it is not entirely right either. I won't get into it because that is not the point of this post, but inequality is real, discrimination happens, pure meritocracy has never existed.
I do want to talk about something else. The thing you end up learning later, once you start thinking about work as a real thing that you must do, and not a hypothetical that grown ups would ask for their entertainment.
Eventually, you will be told something else. It's not just what you do, but the alignment between your unique skills, values and what you do for a living. That's the way to have a successful, happy life. This is the way to have a long and prosperous career that won't feel like "work".
There's a lot of BS around this rhetoric, but I will leave that for another post. For now, it is enough to say that this sounds good in theory, but that alignment is a lot harder to achieve.
I've taken all the personality tests.
I've read Business Model You, What Color is Your Parachute, Strengths 2.0 and countless titles on career development and leveraging my skills.
I've always had an idea of my abilities (especially the things I *don't* do well or won't be bothered to do). But, knowing that does not mean I know how to leverage those skills or even love the abilities that I bring to the table.
There is of course a strong bias in me to relate everything to perfectionism and impostor syndrome, but I believe this is the big picture and one of the reasons why I am sharing my story. Even the introduction of this article points out that many of us downplay or do not appreciate their unique abilities.
In theory, you'd have a good idea about your unique abilities by following these 6 tips.
"You love to do this everywhere—not just in business."
What if this whole time you have been doing what is best, what is acceptable, what is reputable? What if the things you say you love are just things you love because of the validation that you receive?
"It shines in many different situations and opportunities."
What if nothing feels like it comes easy to you because you have been in survivor mode for decades? What if you still go and ask around, and your peers tell you all the wonderful stuff that you do and you still can't see the good in you?
"Your Unique Ability is “factory installed”: you’ve been doing it since childhood."
What if your unique ability never developed because you were told it was worthless or silly to pursue? What if you had to suppress your unique ability because you grew up in a house or environment that did not support you?
"It comes to you so naturally, you might not think it’s anything special."
The question is, why do you think it is not special? What is the story behind that? Did you grow up believing that you should not occupy space or have a voice? Are you subconsciously waiting for someone to give you permission to be loud and proud of who you are?
"Other people count on you for these special talents."
When people recognize your unique ability and *you don't appreciate it in yourself*, there is a high chance that you will be exploited. You might be underpaid for that skill, or just taken advantage of...for example, an empath with no boundaries will attract people that will drain them. Their gift to tune in to other's emotions becomes their downfall. In their mind, there is no way their empathy can be a unique ability because it is the source of their misery and drama.
"You can get better and better at this for your whole life … and still find it fascinating."
You might find it fascinating, but did you figure out how to let that unique ability shine in every aspect of your life, or did you just learn to compartmentalize it and do it in your spare time?
I have a friend who is an amazing artist and can work on all types of media - watercolors, digital, abstract, sculpture, you name it, she can do it. While she can spend hours painting, that doesn't mean that she has fully owned her unique ability. She's the struggling artist because she doesn't believe that her art can financially support her.
I have a friend who has an incredible capacity to connect the dots between history, philosophy, and religion...but he limits his ability to the conversations he has with his friends. He could be a published writer, but he would have to believe that his ability is a gift that is needed.
Disclaimer: Not everything has to be monetized for it to have value. But, we live in a world that constantly equates the two, and this post also talks about finding your unique abilities so you can apply them in your professional life...
My point is, I don't believe in compartmentalizing anymore. Your unique ability should be able to roam free and express itself as it wishes. It should not be reserved "for work only" or "for family only". The more it permeates your life, the more joy you will find, even in the most mundane tasks. That's one way to find joy in the present moment.
My friend who is capable of imagining beautiful worlds could use that unique ability to imagine a version of herself that is living off her art. This vision can sustain her while she figures it out and does what she needs to do to pay the bills in the meantime. My other friend doesn't need to become a published writer, but he can bring that skill into his engineering job. Who knows what could come out of that interesting combination?
We all have unique abilities, and in an ideal world we would be supported and nurtured from the beginning to appreciate them and use them. We would never doubt our capacity and we would not hesitate to brag about our gifts.
That's not real life. Life is not a never-ending high. In spite of the self-esteem movement and our endless pursuit of happiness, by the time we reach adulthood we carry so much shame and we spend much of our efforts trying to conceal it or brainwashing ourselves with some self-help bullshit that tells us "it is all an illusion, ergo, snap out of it and be a grown up who seizes life by the balls".
So, for anyone out there who cannot see the good in themselves, you are not faulty. You are seeing the promised land of self-actualization, but no one has bothered to mention that to get there, you cannot bypass your shame.
And that's the reason why I won't shut up about this topic. It really is easier to describe and own your unique abilities once you process that shame. When shame doesn't own you, you are free to become who you are.
Until then, any attempt to embody those unique abilities feels like a fraud.