Do not covet someone else’s gifts

Every individual has their own unique strength that is often not recognised, acknowledged and valued by the individual themselves. In the write up below, Yoek Ling takes us through her thought perspectives on treasuring and embracing our own strengths.

Another aspect of grounding in significance is to understand and own your strengths and preferences, sometimes this involves the difficult task of swimming against the tide of what society or the people around you value.

Yes, all of us might agree that it is important to do work that we enjoy, work that we are good at and work that is meaningful, but we might each do it in our own way.

Embracing The Gifts I Have

Cynthia Lee, who guides our participants in life/career design through the MAD@Work programme, is also a Gallup Clifton Strengths coach. She told me that one of the biggest things that gets in the way of people being at their very best, is strengths envy. They have their own strengths, as we all do; but instead of embracing and owning their strengths, they wish that they had the strengths that someone else had. While it is true that investing time and effort even in our areas of relative weakness will help us improve, her recommendation is that we would see greater return on that investment by putting it in our areas of relative strength.

Unfortunately it is not as if we can just tell ourselves, snap out of it! Just love your own strengths and quit strengths envy!

Oftentimes, these distortions are shaped by the containers we find ourselves in. We might find that the society we live in values the sciences over the arts, the academic over the technical, the thinking over the doing. And closer to home, we swim in the sea of preferences that those closest to us value and approve of. As we imbibe these biases, they become the veil that blind us to our own strengths and preferences, and ultimately, power.

Take for example our friend, W. She loves Mandarin; she could not say why. She just finds in Mandarin an expressiveness that she had never felt in English. Yet she often expressed envy for those who could speak eloquently in English.

She also loves speaking in front of a crowd, whether on air or in person, capturing the attention and sharing her bubbly personality with them. The idea of being a host was exciting- but this big red warning sign would pop up: “But being a host is shallow and it’s flaky!” There was a huge resistance to becoming this very thing that promised to bring her joy and excitement as if becoming a host would reveal to everyone how shallow she really was.

Understanding her strengths profile gave her the vocabulary for understanding why she loved standing in front of a crowd, why she enjoyed being upbeat and bringing energy to others. From a closed door, it became a possibility she entertained. She started to ask herself why she had resisted the idea in the first place. Tracing her thoughts back to where they first started to emerge, she got some clues about where her assumptions came from. She remembered how as a child, she used to get approving nods from her mother whenever she spoke in English, and the disapproving clucks when she spoke in Mandarin, as if those who spoke English were cleverer and better than those who spoke in Mandarin. When she was able to let go of false images of what is ‘good’, and truly embrace her gifts, she started to move forward in new and joyful ways. Today, she is on her journey to reinventing herself as a host and emcee.

And being ok with what I don’t have

What makes it so difficult for us to connect with what really are our strengths and preferences, are years of conditioning that tell us what we are good at or what we like, is not really good enough. In the quest to own our gifts, we also must learn to let go of the gifts we do not have.

This is a difficult idea given that we would like to believe that as long as we work hard, it will take us where we would like to go.

And yet inherently, perhaps we know that it is not true. Because in asking people to imagine their best possible lives, they see not just the possibilities that lie before them, but they are also confronted by fears and doubts: Can I do it? Am I really good enough or will I be lucky enough?

In Howard’s Gift, the authors use this phrase ‘cheating at solitaire’ to describe a situation where someone does not have the cards it takes to win the game, and they play on as if they do. The Harvard Business School professor tells stories of how he’s seen his ex-students struggle in such situations, while missing other opportunities that would have been better for them. Their realist lens invites readers to ask not only the question of whether they can do it, but whether they could win when pitted against others competing for the same thing.

This ability to be honest with ourselves about not just what we have, but what we do not have, becomes all the more critical when I hear participants share about career goals in fields that are extremely competitive, where the rewards are high but distributed among only a few (e.g. the performing arts), or very uncertain (e.g. entrepreneurship) or highly ambitious (e.g. when the goal is to be the #1 in any given field).

While I believe that given enough time, we could learn what it takes to excel, the key constraint here is time. Given the time that you have, do you have a good chance of getting to where you minimally want to be? A friend once came to me asking for success ingredients in entrepreneurship. I told him that I was lucky to still be surviving, not because I was particularly talented, but because I had time on my side, not having many of the financial and family commitments my peers did. How much time can you buy, taking into consideration the other financial commitments you have to meet? What is the proportion of time you want to spend working, compared to other domains of your life you could be spending time on? Within a given time, how far could your talents take you, compared to someone else putting in the same amount of time in this field? Given the time that you have, what talents do you want to invest in developing, and which goals do you want to prioritise?

Holding up a mirror to ourselves, perhaps we can gracefully let go of what is not ours, to make room to embrace the gifts we do have.

Written by Yong Yoek Ling

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Yoek Ling is a co-founder of and trainer at Bold@Work, a youth-centric start-up company, with the mission of empowering and developing young people to be equipped with skills for the future of work. Together with Cynthia, they strongly believe that individuals should embrace their own unique strengths and also understand the realities surrounding his/her life goals. To provide youths with an avenue to explore life possibilities and to ideate for the future, Bold@Work, offers the MAD at Work programme to help youths design their life.

You can too! Join us at Mad at Work now! To find out more: https://boldatwork.sg/new-index-1/#events-1