I’m just beginning to write this post, but I already know it’s going to be a difficult one. Why do I know that? Because I know that I’m one of the most self-critical people I’ve ever known. So really, this could be the equivalent of dog writing about how hard it is to be a cat. While it may seem a little hypocritical, I’m going to go for it anyway. This will either prove to be a therapeutic experience, or it’ll prove that, while I’m not great at acknowledging my strengths and talents, I’m good at recognizing those traits in other people, and this is more for them than it is for me. I suppose this writing is going to come from a sense of first hand experience, but also being open and watching those around me experience the pain of self-criticism as well.
As a part of my Master’s Degree, I did a lot of intensive work in individual leadership development. In fact, my 100+ page thesis was a three-part work on the idea that everyone contains the capacity to be a leader. The first part of my thesis (which I’m referencing for this discussion) can be found here. Since it’s a little long, you might not want to read the whole thing, so I’ll sum it up: I believe that everyone possesses five characteristics that they channel into effective and quality leadership: Passion, Initiative, Courage, Creativity, and Humility. It’s when these five things come together (in a Captain Planet sort of way) that a person emerges as the leader they are meant to be.
In my thesis (and probably in a future work like a dissertation or other post-graduate study), I talk about how passion is truly the catalyst to help the other characteristics fall into place. If you’re passionate, you’ll want to take initiative, you’ll want to have courage, you’ll want to be creative in your problem solving, etc. The tricky part of this equation is finding that passion and clinging to it, knowing that making it into something great is going to take work– but work you’ll be willing and excited to do.
Just like we all have some kind of passion burning inside of us, we all have gifts, too. Some of our gifts are greater or more prominent than others (i.e. I’d consider myself a decent chef, but a good baker), but that doesn’t mean any are invaluable. How you use and develop them is up to you. Unfortunately for us, American society hasn’t done us many favors in the whole ‘developing and discovering your gifts’ department. Here’s why I think this:
1. The most accessible gifts inventory in most high schools is the ASVAB test. I don’t know about you, but I answered questions to get a specific outcome. I was supposed to be some kind of performing artist…. and look at me now.
2. Colleges and the higher education system are expecting students to choose a career path at the ripe age of 18. Then they’re charging an arm and a leg for school, basically threatening students with the impending doom of life-long student loan debt if they can’t get their degree done in timely fashion.
3. American society glorifies both the celebrity lifestyle, and the participation award. How many times have we asked ourselves, “Why is Kim Kardashian famous?” And, don’t get me wrong, I loved getting participation awards, but no– I should have never received a medal for being on the turquoise soccer team. I was TERRIBLE at soccer. They should have given me a hand-written note (to show sincerity) saying that I should never don a pair of shin guards ever again. Tough love, people. Let’s try to recapture that.
While there may be a lot of things you’re not exceptionally talented at, keep in mind that in order to embrace the gifts you DO have, you have to trust that God had a least a little bit of an idea when he was creating you. To forgo your gifts and constantly wish for someone else’s gifts is not only doing yourself a disservice, but dishonoring the work that the Holy Spirit is continuously doing in you. Have a little faith (albeit, sometimes easier said than done) in the work that God is doing in and through you.
So what? Here’s what- I think too many people count themselves out because they’ve tried things that haven’t worked. This shouldn’t be our mentality at all. With hesitation, I use the failure (I have a love/hate relationship with this beautifully terrible word). Failure brings with it opportunities for greatness (I blogged about that, too). The best thing about failure is that it points me away from things that are wrong for me and opens up a thousand more opportunities. Don’t look at failure as an end, embrace it as a new beginning.
What else? This means that you can’t sit around moping about your inadequacies and expect to be successful. You have to try in order to fail or succeed. You’ll never know which one it’ll be until you get off your couch. If you don’t know where to start, ask your friends (who you can be candid with, and who you trust) what they think some of your strengths and talents are. Ask them what they think you might be good at, or if they can think of things for you to try. Your friends (who love you) will give you honest and worthwhile feedback.
You have some incredible gifts, whether or not you know it. Just because you don’t think you’ve found them yet, whether your 7 years old or 107 years old, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The beauty in waking up every day is the uncertainty of what you’ll discover about the world, God, life, but even more exciting, yourself. And if you’re still looking for that ONE thing to cling to, that ONE thing to be passionate about, go look for it, but be patient in the search. And realize that you do have other gifts- cling to those things that give you hope and joy and realize that you are a gift to people around you.