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Sadly, it’s not that simple -- although asking her, Siri, Google Home, or another device might yield some interesting answers. One of the biggest questions of a person’s life -- not to be too dramatic, but it’s true -- is simply “What is my talent?” and its cousin, “How do I find my talent?”
Typically people tend to view the “What is my talent?” question around the two prisms of “overt” and “hidden.” Typically overt talents would be tied to the professions you choose; for example, you’re a good coder and work well with structure and problem-solving, all overt talents, so you navigate to being an engineer. That pays the bills, so to speak.
But at the same time, you might be a world-class juggler behind the scenes. Juggling is less likely to pay the bills as compared to engineering, so the juggling exists as a hidden talent that emerges from time-to-time, say at post-COVID company holiday parties and the like.
You see some of the “What is my talent” and “how to find my talent” discussion tied up in the modern ethos of the “side hustle” as well. Maybe your hidden talent, or a talent you’re trying to develop, is your side hustle, and over time it becomes an overt talent and you move in that direction.
We know people who worked in graphic design for 15+ years, and now they’re in commercial real estate, and it all started because they had a side hustle with friends flipping houses, and the real estate side interested them, and they learned the game, and over time they got into commercial development. It happens.
You see it with “trades” too, i.e. carpentry and such -- someone maybe is an amazing mortgage underwriter, but it doesn’t fill their soul the way making beautifully-crafted bird houses does, so over time the overt talent for mortgage underwriting fades away and the hidden talent with shaping wood rises up, and there’s a new career path in the process.
None of this has to be tied to career, though. It’s cool if you can do something for income that you’re talented at, and it protects you against waves of layoffs and other issues, without question. But many people do something for work because it’s available, not because they’re passionate about it, or even that talented. Sometimes a hidden talent and even overt talents can be sources of joy and relevance and self-efficacy but not necessarily income. That’s possible too.
If you are wondering “What is my talent,” though, where would you begin?
If you saw the Persona documentary, you might not be a big fan of Meyers-Briggs -- and you wouldn’t be alone, because others have called MBTI “totally meaningless.” Still, the assessment market is relatively massive, and there are a bunch of options out there that can show you where specific skills and talents lie.
Fingerprint for Success has an evidence-based assessment that is decidedly not a personality test (it measures your motivation for different aspects of work and never boxes you in with a label or ‘type’). Their assessment and online coaching can help you understand how to find your talent, and even help you understand how your personality and skills might map to the culture of a team. Example therein: go back above and look at the engineer context. They’re good coders and like structure, right? Well, there might be someone in marketing or sales at the same organization that doesn’t like structure and is a creative whirling dervish.
Those two people, even though their talents are different, can come together and be amazing contributors in the same culture. When your culture is all people with the same general approach, talents, backgrounds, and thought patterns, that’s called “homophily,” and it usually means your organization might be ripe for disruption.
This doesn’t always work, because people get busy and they don’t respond, or they feel the ask of “Hey, what am I good at?” is too overwhelming, so they avoid it, or they’re afraid to say anything negative, so you get a warmed-over answer. It’s not perfect, but it can yield some interesting directions and ideas about what your talent is.
Just send an email or text to some friends and former co-workers and keep it casual: “Hey, I’m feeling a little bit stuck. What do you see as some of my strengths and weaknesses? What was I good at? Just anything you can offer would be cool.”
The people who know you the best, or who stayed up until 11pm with you finishing projects over crappy pizza, generally have more insight into your style and talents than you might have about yourself. Try to get that intel out of them.
Lifehack mentions this idea as a way to identify talents, and it’s a bit dicey -- what if you spend the most money at bars? Does that mean you should own a bar or become a bartender? Probably not. It might actually speak to a bigger concern, but that’s for a different post.
Still, though, if you spend all your money purchasing items to make delicate figurines that you then sell online and have started making some side income from, well, maybe that’s an indicator that your talent and passion lie with these figurines, and the fact that you regularly deplete your bank account to buy elements to make new ones is probably a good first step in understanding “What is my talent?”
This can be enlightening. You can write full entries, akin to a diary, or you can do a model where you list three positive things from a day and one negative (constructively) thing. That way, at the end of a week, you have 21 positive things and seven things to work on. If you do this for a month and look back over it, you’ll see some patterns.
What sticks out in the 84-90 positive things you wrote in the last month? What are the patterns? Conversely, in the 28-30 negative elements, what stands out?
You should move further in the direction of the positive, and try to minimize or move away from the latter. If a lot of the negative elements are tied to your job, remember: sometimes having multiple sources of lower income, rooted in talents and passions, can be much more fulfilling than having one source of larger income + insurance.
None of these career and passion decisions are easy, but YOLO, so make the most of it.
We know someone who worked in non-profit management, but she was constantly thanked for her help with events and making events truly memorable -- and so, years later, she ended up planning events, then ended up with her own event planning company, and it was very successful.
Event planning was a “hidden” talent at first, but because so many people would thank her for her work on events, it became something she focused on more, emerged into an overt talent, and then became an income source (and then became a significant income source).
This scares people, because change is hard. Right? Maybe not so right. Consider:
Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed. This point has gone largely unnoticed by an entire generation of experts and laypeople alike. I am just as guilty of this omission as everyone else. But now that we know the truth, don’t we have a duty to act on it? Isn’t it time to change the way we talk about change?
We confuse the fact that change requires effort with the myth that success is unlikely. The evidence actually suggests that change is hard much in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon or learn a new language. Of course it requires effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that the majority of people who commit to it will eventually succeed.
In short: change feels hard and scary, but in reality, it’s doable. Shifting talents and looking for talents might be a daunting proposition, but you can do it. Many before you have done it. A huge chunk of the real estate profession, which is a profession that drives a lot of the perception about how the economy is doing, came from other fields. Talents are malleable and can be developed with time. Don’t fear change.
This is a hugely-important question, so let’s spend some time here.
First, this reflects the essential fulcrum point (see-saw) of management: do you focus more on managing up, i.e. impressing those with more formal authority in the organization, or on managing down, which typically involves more people development?
Middle managers or front-line managers have it tough, because they have to do both -- and usually their focus becomes on the former, i.e. impressing those above them in the organizational structure. That leaves talent development lacking. We see this reflected in stats too: an average age for first managerial promotion is 30, and an average age for first managerial training is 42. Seems like a bit of a gap, no? We don’t tend to focus on employee development, and that’s a core problem of organizations.
The good news is, there’s a concept called “strengths-based leadership,” whereby you focus on finding talents in employees and developing them into bigger strengths, using this handy ABCD guide:
If you then move over to some work done by Gallup and Harvard Business Review, you can see some of the benefits of a strengths-based approach, including:
Wow! Nice numbers. And you can get there by simply identifying skills and talents in your team, and then working with them to move from “What is my talent” to “Oh, I’m good at this now and contribute daily in this way.”
F4S can also help with talent development.
Everyone on the planet has something they can offer -- it’s trite to say they wouldn’t be here if they had nothing to offer, but also potentially true -- and it’s just a question of finding it, which is a mix of assessment culture, your friends, your co-workers, your managers, your passions, your interests, what makes you genuinely happy, and more.
“What is my talent” and “How to find my talent” are core questions of your life, vocationally and otherwise, and again, it’s not easy and there’s a lot of complicated inputs to the question. But with the right mix, you can get there.