Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought. – Matsuo Basho, 17th C. Japanese poet
When I was in the 7th grade, I wanted to be just like Lisa Piscatto. A classmate of mine, Lisa was popular, athletic and, it appeared to me, utterly at ease with herself. No small accomplishment at the tender age of 12.
While I had my share of friends and was both musically and academically inclined, I did not possess Lisa’s athleticism or apparent self-assuredness. Although the latter quality would come with time, I was never to be the star of the lacrosse team or the belle of the basketball court.
In retrospect, all that comparison, while quite normal, was terribly unproductive. In reality, there is no one path to greatness. No universally effective style of leadership; no single formula for success. Yet so often we compare ourselves to others and judge our own achievements only in contrast to the accomplishments of those around us. We seek the magic formula for success and believe that if only we follow in the footsteps of others, we will be on the fast track to success.
In point of fact, this is pure fallacy. The truth is, each of us possesses unique talents that can be called upon to move us forward, professionally and personally. To be sure, we can learn from those who have already arrived at the heights we seek. We can adopt those approaches and strategies that may serve us well in our quest. But we cannot attempt to turn ourselves into someone we’re not. I was never to be Lisa Piscatto. I now understand that I never needed to be anyone other than myself.
If you haven’t yet discovered your strengths, it’s time to start exploring. Here are a few tips to help you in the process.
Engage in meaningful self-reflection. Ask yourself the following questions: What do I do exceptionally well? Of which accomplishments am I especially proud? What are the things I simply must continue doing to reach my goals?
Gain input from trusted others. Speak to your peers, your boss, your family and friends. Ask them where your strengths lie. It’s not unusual for others to recognize those talents we simply fail to notice in ourselves. You’ll find that most people are more than happy to help.
Try new things. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Engage in new activities and see what happens. Above all, don’t be afraid to fail. Hey, if you’re not failing from time to time, it means you’re simply not trying. Besides, you never know what abilities and inclinations you may discover along the way.
Remember this: In unearthing your unique talents and individual style, you place yourself firmly on the path to personal and professional success.