Through years of building marketing teams, I’ve been surprised at how few people really understand their unique talents and weaknesses. Understanding and leveraging unique talents can propel your career forward faster than anything. But watch out. You may get promoted into a role that relies on your weaknesses. Taking the time to understanding both is well worth the effort.
Watching my daughter play soccer this weekend reminded me of my early days of self discovery. Like her, my lack of coordination was compensated by high levels of determination. I didn’t want to be a star athlete, just above average. It wasn’t until high school that I found a sport/position that didn’t require high levels of coordination to be successful. As a defensive lineman on the football team I could claw and scratch my way to success. Of course it helped to have some talent to find angles to stop a runner and discipline to stay in position. But my success in football was primarily based on finding a position that didn’t rely on my key athletic weakness – limited hand-eye coordination.
I followed a similar path in academics. With a B average in high school I barely scraped into UC Davis with a physiology major. I thought I was on my way to achieving a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, but I quickly hit a hurdle in chemistry class. Despite non-stop studying I could not wrap my brain around chemistry. I couldn’t visualize it or rationalize it. My brain just didn’t work that way. And I could see organic chemistry looming in the future. The horror at the thought of failing pushed me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. When I spoke to my guidance councilor she suggested I consider changing my major. This would mean giving up becoming a doctor, but I agreed. It remains the hardest decision of my life, but it was also one of the best. A business path was much more aligned with the way my brain functions. I quickly discovered in economics courses that I could get twice the grade for half the effort of my peers. My academic success could never have happened if I didn’t work to understand my strengths and weaknesses.
This academic success opened doors for career opportunities. Marketing was very intuitive for me and I was able to quickly rack up some early marketing successes. In 2000 I leapt at the opportunity to run European operations for Uproar, following its NASDAQ listing. But I quickly discovered that as President of Uproar Europe, I had very little time left to focus on marketing. While I was decent at general management, marketing was my unique strength and true passion. After Uproar was acquired, I vowed to continue to hone my marketing skills and to avoid general management.
Unfortunately many people think their only career objective should be to work their way up the organization. Warning – avoid promotions that don’t leverage your strengths.