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Multi-Talented but Under-Challenged?

By Marie-Josée Salvas

Positive Psychology News Daily

Marie-Josee Salvas, MAPP, is the Health and Productivity Expert at Optimal Living. She combines insights from positive psychology, fitness, nutrition and wellness to plan training sessions that help organizations implement healthy living as a business strategy.

Marie-Josee writes on the 24th of each month, and her past articles are here.


A good friend of mine could be the next Martha Stewart. In fact, let’s call her Martha. Martha loves to cook and does it beautifully. Guests that she entertains for dinner wow at the presentation, rejoice throughout the meal, and are somewhat embarrassed when it’s their turn to invite her over.

Martha is equally talented at home design. Her own home is both harmonious and stylish, and she’s the go-to person for anyone in her group of friends who needs advice on décor.

Having studied fashion, she can also help just about any lady plan a make-over, including hair, make-up or clothing style.

As if her skill set wasn’t complete enough already, she’s also the funniest person I know (and I know a lot of people!).

It’s great to have a friend like Martha around. But it’s a real shame to see her go to the same federal office day after day so she can send emails, make photocopies, stamp paperwork, and align numbers in the right columns.

I recently read the book The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success by Marcus Buckingham. If you know anyone like my friend Martha – or maybe you’re like her yourself – consider reading this book.

After years of research, most notably with the Gallup Organization, Buckingham explains that only 2 out of 10 people get to play to their strengths at work most of the time. Yes, there are a lot of Marthas out there and to help them out of their misery, Buckingham presents what he calls “truths.” More precisely:

– As you grow older, you become more and more of who you already are;

– You grow most in your areas of greatest strengths;

– You will never turn a weakness into a strength;

– A great team player volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time and deliberately partners with people who have different strengths.

New Definition for Strengths and Weaknesses

“Your strengths are not what you are good at and your weaknesses are not what you are bad at,” he explains as he emphasizes that certain things that we are naturally endowed to do bore us to tears.

Agreed, I am quite good at cleaning, filing, and organizing, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel at my best when I do and I can’t wait to be finished when I start.

The Truth About You suggests that “a weakness is any activity that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it… a strength – your strengths – are any activity that make you feel strong” (pp. 41-42).

So pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after an activity, he recommends. If you feel drawn to the activity and are looking forward to it before you start; if you are interested, in the zone, and focused during the activity and if you are satisfied with the process after it’s over, chances are it’s a strength.

To help you discover your strengths, try finishing this sentence: “I feel strong when…”

Buckingham explains that people like Martha live a second-rate version of their own lives. And while they justify their career choices through argument like “it’s safer” or “I’ll have a great retirement plan,” they put their true personality on hold in the hope of bringing it back at some later point in the future.

The problem is, in the meantime, your motivation, interests, and confidence all suffer. And so when that future you were waiting for finally arrives – if it does – you are most likely no longer ready to tackle it.

Buckingham urges his readers to take on jobs that enable them to do what they enjoy. His tone feels personal; his advice is compelling.

Making It Real

But people like Martha still have to pay their bills. Leaving her secure position with the government to start a new career for which she may have a ton of aptitude and talent but little concrete experience could impede her ability to make her mortgage payments in the short-term. That’s what’s really holding her and other people in her situation back – nothing else.

Enhancing Buckingham’s advice with a sound financial strategy – like estimating how much income will be reduced in the first few months post-transition and setting money aside to face this new reality – would help his readers to make the move.

Society at large would benefit if more people got a chance to contribute their unique gifts on a daily basis. So now I’d like to turn to you. What advice or strategies would you share with my friend Martha and others in her situation?


Buckingham, M. (2009). The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success.

This article is © 2009 PositivePsychologyNews.com.


Developing Multiple Talents book

Also see High Ability – gifted/talented articles.

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