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How to Identify, Develop, and Leverage Your Greatest Skills

By: Brian Kim - November 2, 2006

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This article is a tangent of one of my previous articles, How to Find What You Love to Do. Finding your skills is a crucial component of doing that, so I wanted to write something that would delve a bit deeper into that particular subject.

Before we can leverage our greatest skills, we must first identify them.

When I look at how we can identify and classify our skills, I see them categorized in three different ways.

1. Talents 2. Developed Skills 3. Potential Skills

1. Talents

Talents are natural skills; arguably the best kind to have. What I specifically mean by talent is a natural ability to perform an activity extremely well.

You probably know a great number of people in your social circle who are blessed with certain talents. Maybe they’re really good at playing piano, or they draw exceptionally well, or they have an amazing voice. It’s easy to tell because we can clearly see the talents in others.

Here’s the ironic part.

We can clearly see the talents in others, but we cannot clearly see it in ourselves.

Most people don’t recognize their talents because they are so natural at it that it becomes second nature to them. To give you a dramatic example, let’s assume that walking in a straight line is as much of a talent as having the voice of the greatest singer in the world (bear with me). You, who can walk in a straight line without any struggle will think that it’s as common as breathing, whereas the majority of people who walk like they’re drunk, view your straight walking as something remarkable, even if you personally don’t. It’s because your talents come so easily to you and produce great results that you don’t even think of them as remarkable. It often takes somebody from the outside looking in to point them out to you.

This is where feedback from external sources plays such a crucial role. If you are a parent, friend, or teacher, you have the responsibility of identifying what your children, or your friend, or your student’s talents are. You should be the one to point out to them what they're naturally good at and encourage them to develop those talents because they won’t know if you don’t tell them.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your talent has to be something “tangible”. We’ve been conditioned to only think of talent as something we can only see on stage, such as being a good singer, dancer, or piano player.

Most of the time you’ll find your talents to be something “intangible” such as getting along with people, or figuring out how things work and fixing them, or being able to clearly get your ideas across to people.

Looking at your talents is the first place you should look to in order to identify your greatest skills.

So how can we go about identifying them?

How to Identify Your Greatest Skills

Asking yourself the following questions may help identify what you’re talented in.

When growing up, what did people tell you had a knack for? What were you always recognized for? What do you amaze others by doing? What can you do that most people struggle with? What are others telling you that you are great at doing?

When you get some answers, take them through the following questions.

Do you get into a “flow” when engaging in that particular activity? Do you have a deep desire to become better at it? Do you admire people who engage in that activity and do it well?

The first set of questions is to get you to realize the talents you possess that you might think as ordinary, but others see as extraordinary.

When you get a list of answers and take them through the second set of questions, that’s just to verify if your talent has the potential to become much more than it already is.

If so, you’ve got a winner.

2. Developed Skills

These are skills that are learned via education or experience, in other words, they are acquired skills. A very simple example of a developed skill is typing. You probably acquired it in school when you had to type up papers for class. You constantly did it and now you’re a pro at it. Another example of a developed skill is cooking. You could have went to culinary school and got education and experience in that field, which resulted in developing the skill of cooking.

Developed skills can also be the result of high interest in a particular hobby, subject, or field. For example, reading can be a developed skill if you have a high enough interest in it. If you’re interested in reading, you’ll find you’ll be reading a ton during your free time and since you do it often, you become so much better at it that it turns into a skill naturally.

This brings us to potential skills.

3. Potential Skills

These skills are ones that haven’t yet turned into full blown “developed skills”, but have the potential to do so, hence the name. These potential skills are often found seeded in subjects of high interests. If you have a high enough interest in let’s say playing chess, that you play it online frequently, play it with your friends, buy books on it, memorize strategies, join clubs, etc., then playing chess can become a developed skill over time.

How to Develop and Leverage Your Greatest Skills

First off, in order to develop and leverage your skills, you should start off with your strongest skills, namely your talents. Starting off with your talents is like starting to climb to the top of Mt. Everest from the middle of the mountain instead of the bottom. It bypasses the time associated with the learning curve of that skill, plus, you’re leveraging something that you’re naturally strong at.

The majority of people don’t do this. They first develop skills that are independent of their natural talents and then try to leverage that. They do this because they haven’t discovered their natural talents in the first place. That’s like jumping down from the middle of Mt. Everest and trying to climb your way back up from the bottom. If a helicopter dropped you on the middle of the mountain, don’t waste that head start. Use that head start and start climbing from there. Don’t try to develop skills that aren’t conducive to your natural talents. That’s working backwards. Work from within FIRST.

You see, when you use your talents as a foundation, that will guide you to subjects that are related to your talent, which will then result in developed skills and specialized knowledge that complement your talents.

For example, let’s say you have a natural talent for drawing. Your natural talent for drawing leads to an interest in the subject of comic books, namely superhero comic books. Then you start developing skills that are conducive to your talents and interests. You start messing around with Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator (computer software for drawing) and become a pro at it. You also start to develop specialized knowledge on superhero comic books in terms of knowing what makes a good superhero comic book and what doesn’t because you’ve read so many of them.

Your natural talent for drawing led to an interest in superhero comic books, which led to developed skills of computer drawing and specialized knowledge of superhero comic books.

Because this person had correctly identified his strongest skills and developed them, he can leverage them to make a career out of drawing comic books or maybe even start his own.

The point I’m trying to make here is to look within yourself first in order to stack a strong foundation by identifying your talents. Don’t make the mistake of looking outside yourself to develop skills that have nothing to do with what you’re naturally good at, because then you would be robbing yourself of a good head start.

Going back to the example of the talented artist, he shouldn’t be trying to learn skills that have nothing to do with drawing such as accounting. Yet, that’s what many people do. They hear from their professors and friends that accounting is going to be the next hot job in demand so they study that. They disregard their talents and focus on a skill that has nothing to do with what they're naturally good at and they wonder why they feel so empty and frustrated at their accounting job (nothing against accountants).

This happens to people who have not identified their talents, or blatantly disregard their talents. I say identify your talents and develop them. Don't disregard them. Embrace them. They are your gifts. They are your superpowers so to speak. They can be found within each and every one of us. We are all Clark Kents. It’s just that some discover their powers and develop them to the point where they’re useful, whereas others are content to be “Clark Kent” and live life wishing they can be somebody else. We all have talents. It's your responsibility to become aware of them, develop them, and to leverage them.

What I want to say in the final analysis is to first look within yourself to see what your natural talents are and build off of that. When you identify what your natural talents are, you’ll see how that influences your choice of subjects and interests and when you find something you’re really interested in, that can lead to developed skills and specialized knowledge that complement your natural talents. Only in this way will you be able to develop and leverage your strongest skills to their fullest extent.

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