The Way We Live: The one about strengths …


To say I’ve been searching for a bit of meaning over the past few months is an understatement.  Grief and trauma will do that to you.  You need a sense of purpose to get you out of bed.

So what’s helped me lately? Lots of things. Friends.  Talking. Exercise.  And reading.

Last year I stumbled upon a book that unexpectedly helped me clarify what I’m meant to be doing with my life.  How do you say, “big call”? Indeed. That book was ‘Go Put Your Strengths To Work’ by Marcus Buckingham.

I’m not usually into self-help books. Okay, I’m a bit into self-help books but I’m not usually into books that promise you a solution to all your problems. But I picked up Buckingham’s book and it changed the way I viewed my career.

So what’s in it? In a nutshell the author theorises that the key to feeling fulfilled by your job is to find one that plays to your strengths.  Um, dur.   But Buckingham explains that actually most of us don’t know what our strengths are.  This is where he began to capture my attention.

Most of us make the obvious mistake of thinking that just because we’re good at something, that it’s automatically one of our strengths.  Instead, according to Buckingham, a strength has to meet four criteria. He uses the acronym SIGN:  Success, Instinct, Growth and Need.

So a strength is something you have success in and something you have a natural instinct for.  But it’s also something you could engage in for hours and barely notice (like practicing the guitar or writing, or solving maths problems or organising and filing documents). Finally, a strength is an activity you have a need to do.  It feeds you. Gives you an absolute buzz.

How many of us have chosen careers based solely on the “success” aspect of SIGN? The high school student who tops accounting assumes they should be studying well, accounting.  The OP1 student assumes they have to do medicine. The popular babysitter thinks she should be in childcare.  But if accounting or medicine or childcare don’t give you that buzz then it’s really not a strength. Conversely, you can be deeply passionate about something – painting, singing, tennis – but if you don’t actually show any natural ability for it, well, it’s really just a hobby – it’s not a strength. The chance of you making a career out of singing if you never even place in any local competitions is pretty slim.  We routinely tell our teenagers that they can “do anything, be anything they want”.  Um, not really.  Sure, follow your dreams but just be smart enough to choose the right ones.

And one last thing:  Writers from all over Australia are banding together to help raise money for people affected by the floods.  Next week I’ll give you all the details about Writers on Rafts and how you can win tickets to the Ultimate Girlie High Tea with Frances Whiting, Jessica Rudd, Emily Jade O’Keefe, Mia Freedman and me.


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  1. Audrey on January 16, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Sounds like an excellent read – thanks for this wonderful review. I especially like the author’s take on following your dreams and choosing the ‘right’ ones. I am not a huge self help book reader either, but there are those occasional gems out there, like Sondra Wright’s book, 40+ and Fabulous: Moving Forward Fierce, Focused, and Full of Life! This one is a bit in different in that the author includes stories and perspectives from both men and women. What I enjoyed about this book is the exposing of the full blown contradiction of the cultural stereotypes of the menopausal, socially impotent, depressed woman at midlife.

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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