If you’re Superman, your greatest strengths are your x-ray vision, your proficiency in flying, your superhuman muscles, and your ability to pull off a pair of nerdy glasses when you’re not saving the world. If you’re Superman, it’s easy to know your strengths; if you’re a teenager, not so much.
This week, YES asked 320 Ithaca teens to talk about their greatest strengths. A few teens said they are good at problem solving, leadership, teamwork, and time management, but many of the answers we got were highly specific to each individual. One teen told us his greatest strength is knot-tying, and another told us her’s is her “god-like charm.” Not surprisingly, 10% have no idea what their strengths are. Another 10% referenced school subjects -- math, writing, history, science. Seventeen percent of teens reported interpersonal skills, such as being good with people, being good at talking and listening, or having a good sense of humor. About 8% said their athletic ability is their greatest strength, and 6% cited their involvement in the arts, such as music, drawing, and photography.
Highly individualized strengths like photography and skiing are excellent skills to have in very specific situations, but even slightly broader strengths have their limitations. If your greatest strength is knot-tying, for example, you will find great success in fishing, rock climbing, and docking boats, but you’ll rarely use this strength as a part-time cashier at Wegmans. If your greatest strength is math, you may one day have a career in engineering, architecture, and statistics, but your math skills probably won’t help you at your summer job as a camp counselor.
Developing the strengths you’re passionate about is important, but for most jobs, you’ll need a solid set of transferable skills that you can use in any situation. You probably already possess many of these skills, and they may even be related to strengths that you can easily identify. Let's focus on just three strenghts you use every day...
For those people who see their interpersonal skills as their greatest strength, it may be obvious that communication skills are useful across the board, but communication skills go beyond speaking and listening. People who are excellent visual or performing artists communicate ideas and emotions through mediums of drawing, singing, playing, sculpting, etc. Athletes communicate with their teammates to encourage and strategize, and they also read the body language of opposing teams to predict what they will do next. In class, you use your communication skills to listen to what the teacher is saying, follow directions, and ask questions.
Communication is a strength that you will always need in every job you’ll ever have. From listening to your supervisor, to asking for help from your co-workers, to passing on information to a customer, your ability to understand and respond appropriately is key.
2. Working Independently
School is full of opportunities to practice working independently. From the time you enter kindergarten until you graduate from high school or college, your teachers will always assign tasks that are meant to be performed alone. Maintaining your focus, completing your work, and doing your best without asking for help every five minutes is an expectation set for every student.
No matter where you work, your job will always require some level of independence. Although your supervisors will train you and offer help when you first begin, they will quickly expect you to perform all functions of your job without them. If they wanted to do the work themselves, they wouldn’t have hired anyone else to join their company.
People who participate in a team sport or in a performing ensemble obviously practice teamwork on a regular basis. In class, teachers often assign group projects or expect students to contribute to class discussions. Even maintaining order in the cafeteria takes a group effort. Everyone understands that the goal is to get lunch and eat it, so they follow a set of unspoken group rules and take on responsibilities to ensure success. You wait your turn in line, sit down once you have your food, take responsibility for cleaning up after yourself, etc. This team effort results in success for the entire group. Everyone gets food. Everyone eats. The lunchroom is ready for the next group. It’s a basic form of teamwork, but it’s a place to start.
At work, you will likely be a member of a team all focused on the same task -- serving customers, constructing a building, or making a profit for your company. Just like at lunch, your team will follow a set of rules and each member will take on a certain amount of responsibility in order to successfully meet your goal.
While these strengths may not help you leap over tall buildings in a single bound or save the world from a criminal mastermind, you’ll still need them at every job for the rest of your life. Even Superman uses his abilities to communicate, work independently, and work as a part of a team for some aspects of his job. For more help discovering and developing your strengths, contact YES to find out when we’re offering our Know Your Strengths workshop. Until then, try this...