You are Uniquely Capable?
You just have to find that thing that’s special about you that distinguishes you from all the others, and through true talent, hard work, and passion, anything can happen. Dr Dre
What are you good at? What are you uniquely great at? What is it you ‘get’ more than other people? This has become known in our cultures as a gift or talent and this is one of the five markers we will use to help you understand your true self and identify a path so that what you do next in life is in harmony with who you are.
A gift is a natural ability or talent. Synonyms include flair, aptitude, capacity, endowment, brilliance, dexterity, artistry.
Skills matter but for the purpose of digging deeper, I want to suggest that gifts and passions are of greater importance in you finding your ‘why?’
Skills are the ability to do something well. Synonyms include: Experience, readiness and know-how.
Either you have certain skills or you do not. It does not matter whether I am passionate about heart surgery. Without the skills and the permission of a senior cardiologist or the General Medical Council, it is unlikely they will allow me to operate. The same could be true of flying, quilting, joinery, or whatever else.
What is it you have gained skills in? This is likely to be through nurture rather than nature. You may have been on courses, read books, and performed a particular role under someone excellent at something and their know-how has rubbed off on you.
Skills are, however, less important in this book because they will not help you answer your deeper ‘why question’. Life Pivot is more about ‘why’ than ‘how’. Also, it is easier to acquire new skills than to change one’s nature.
Again, what do you do that comes so naturally, it annoys other people? What is it you do that feels effortless? What is it you have done in your life where your first attempt was probably better than another person’s fifth attempt? We are all the best at something.
The challenge in identifying your true gifts/brilliance is that there is a script we follow which comes from various places. We often answer this question based on what we think will gain us approval from those we respect rather than based on the raw, true, crisp version of ourselves.
This idea is set out in far more detail in a book ‘Falling Upward’, by Richard Rohr. In it, he states that in the first half of our lives we have a goal to survive successfully. This includes financial success, creating relationships, holidays, a house, family, etc. These ‘successes’ are things our culture approves of and as surely as night follows day, we replicate what those around us most celebrate. We do more of what gains others’ approval. Therefore, I suggest an honest answer to this question is harder than it first seems. We have so many filters through which certain ideas cannot get through.
This means many of the things you have become excellent at may differ from other gifts and talents in you that lie dormant waiting to be awakened.
Richard Rohr suggests in his book that the second half of life is less about what we do, but who we are becoming. It is about moving from success to significance and it is a search for significance and fruitfulness which emanates not from us performing well but from living out of our true heart. A different script and paradigm altogether.
History is full of examples of individuals who have lived one way thinking they were doing what they were good at until one day they had what can only be described as an epiphany moment. They suddenly experienced a moment where everything comes together and everything just works.
One such individual who found his ‘sweet spot’ is a man by the name of Ray Kroc who after World War One started selling paper cups and milkshake machines. He thought his gift was sales. It sort of was but sometime later he met the owners of a new type of restaurant who were making food quickly to be eaten outside of the restaurant and it fascinated him and could somehow understand how the factory-like efficiency could have a broad impact elsewhere. This man became the first CEO of McDonald’s which today boasts some 8000 restaurants worldwide. He was not the founder or creator but his gift (aged fifty-three) was his ability to spot the explosive trend and communicate that vision to would-be franchisees.
Another such example is J K Rowling. By 1993, at the age of twenty-eight, after a very short-lived marriage and hitting rock bottom as a penniless single mother she said “I still had an old typewriter and a big idea”.
That big idea was given space to breathe. It turns out that the thing we know J K Rowling, for now, is an extraordinary imagination and the ability to tell stories that children and their parents alike want to read. I wonder how many people reading this have had big ideas, but they were dismissed out of hand?
Why is it that some people seem to find that unique talent that sets them on the right course and others do not? I would suggest that part of the problem is that we do not always know where to look and have a very narrow and limited view of what makes up a special capability.
Let me expand: We are all born with phenomenal capabilities of intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, intuition, imagination as well as a host of other things. But there are obstacles. First, the thing that makes us ‘fly’ may not fit in any one camp, but rather it might be a combination of many things.
For Matt Groening, the genius behind the Simpsons, he was not a gifted politician, artist or comic but when his amusement of these things combined, the result was one of the most widely viewed funny cartoons, filled with political irony poking fun at the issues of the day. He could have said: “I am no Martin Luther King (politician), no Picasso, (artist) and no Michael McIntyre (comic)” but his artistic freedom allowed him to be unique and to create something unique.
Our inability to see how our various capabilities and various types of intelligence fit together holistically means there are possibilities we simply do not consider.
Another important point to make when we reflect on our past experiences is not to assume that everything until now has been a mishap. No. Focus in on the things that went very well. You may see some trends where you have been repeatedly ‘lucky’ but in truth, it was not luck at all.
Understand why some things worked well for you. If you are blessed with unique capabilities then it is altogether likely that your uniqueness came into play in your past triumphs. It was not fairy dust. It was you. What was it about you, the way you thought, the way you behaved and the way you processed information that was unique to you?
Sir Paul McCartney never liked music at school. He found it boring. In fact, Sir Paul applied to join the choir of Liverpool Cathedral but was turned down for lack of a good singing voice. In this story, Sir Paul McCartney knew that he liked music, just not what he was being spoon-fed at school. He, therefore, decided to write music he did like with his friends John Lennon, George Harrison and later Ringo Starr to create the music he liked. They went on to sell over 178 million albums.
The second reason for the veil over our latent capabilities and talents is that we have over defined what constitutes a worthy talent and gift as part of our educational system. That definition is largely linked to what is of economic benefit in an industrial era. It is therefore still hard for you and for me to think of our gifts outside of the school curriculum in terms of maths, science, the English language, and the humanities. These are certainly necessary for whatever we want to do but for many, our particular unique capability may be less obvious.
In this book, I am inviting you to be open-minded and try to find out when and where it is/has been that you have just been on autopilot and been able to function at a high level in a way that actually brings you energy and energises others. That place is hard to identify because you will take it for granted as it is effortless for you.
I am an ‘ideas person’. I have two to three ideas a day (not all good.) and I sometimes write them down but usually I do not because I view them as quite obvious. But not everyone thinks the same way. I therefore find myself in my ‘sweet spot’ when I am helping someone overcome a problem. I find my mind brainstorming without permission and before I realise it, I have plotted three or four solutions in every direction and it is incredibly visual for me, so much so, that I can draw what I see. Part of this is why I am teased by friends and past colleagues about my unnecessary large number of analogies. I think in pictures and can see the relationship between different things and can imagine what happens if you combine this idea with that idea.
In the context of mentoring other entrepreneurs for me, it often looks a bit like a game of ‘Boggle’. I like to listen and understand and then shake the idea’s core ingredients around and see what other words we can make with the same letters. I then present a novel idea and suggest an entirely different application for what has already been created. Same DNA different context. Or, for the sake of an analogy here, it is like me going through someone else’s pantry and then suggesting what else they could bake using the same ingredients. Even in writing this paragraph I have been leaning forward and typing more quickly than usual. This is what our ‘sweet spot’ does for us. When have you felt that?
My friend Rob is a social worker and supports people with mental health problems. It is heart-warming to know that there are people like him caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. But, for half the week Rob also develops properties. Caring for people is absolutely who he is, but there is another side to him which is buying derelict two-bedroom houses and restoring and transforming them into five-bedroom family homes. When I look at the property at the beginning, I fear that he has bitten off more than he can chew but then as we walk around it he describes what he sees in his mind’s eye down to the very details of how light will enter and bounce around the atrium to how certain right angles will give definition to the end of one space and the beginning of another. He visualises how a home will be created allowing a family to enjoy a space together without overcrowding. He uses phrases like ‘bring the outside, inside’. He is in his zone. Is he a builder? No. Is he an architect? No. What is it that makes him animated and energized? I would say it is his unique capability to dream and imagine different possibilities and outcomes in his head and then enjoy the process of transformation through a plan of action. Some might see his two jobs as a dichotomy but they actually have something in common –restoration, imagination and the desire to see something or someone get better through a well-managed plan.
I hope the above examples have resonated with you on some level and got you thinking.
First I recommend you find four to five people in your life (who you trust and who you feel know you quite well). Simply ask them what it is that they think you are uniquely good and capable at? And again, a caution, be quite clear that you expect them to speak honestly and ignore whatever you have told them in the past. Ask them to say what they see.
And then do your best to put it into a sentence.
The thing I just ‘get’ and seem to be uniquely capable at is…………………….
Second, here are a few other questions you might ask yourself as a way of digging a bit deeper.
What do you enjoy doing even when no one is looking or asking?
What is it that once you get started people have to drag you away from?
When do you feel so ‘in the moment’ that several hours can pass and it only feels like a few minutes?
What would you do for free if you could?
When you are at the airport and go into a newsagent, which magazines do you pick up to read?
What do you enjoy talking about?
What do you enjoy watching on TV and why?
When, at school, did you do incredibly well at something? Projects, organizing things etc. Name two to three and what do they have in common and what was it that you brought to the table that made it a success?
The main point I have tried to get across in this section is that understanding what it is that you ‘get’ is unlikely to be something you will find in a report card or within a LinkedIn profile. It is something far more nuanced - not just what you are gifted at but the reason for that giftedness and that is about all of you as a person.