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The Power of Conscious Competence

Have you ever tried to squeeze your size 14 body into a size 12 suit? Doesn't work, does it? Oh, maybe you can get the pants on without ripping them out. The moment you go to sit down though, or eat more than one cup of soup, you're going to be outside your comfort zone. And maybe at risk for exposing the gap between "reality" and "desire."

There's nothing wrong with being a size 14. Celebrate it. Leverage all that being a size 14 means. But let go of being a size 12. Life is too short to not be able to comfortably sit down.

Those of us in business often do something similar when we try to fit into a job or a career that is not "the right size" for us. We try to squeeze ourselves into an account executive position at an ad agency when our strengths are better suited to teaching the arts in an elementary school. Peter Drucker said, "Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer."

In our work lives, if we can discern what our greatest strengths are -- when we are at ourBlog best, in the zone, performing in a way that is both excellent and exhilarating -- we can be consciously competent. We can sense what's working and how it's working and why it's working. And thus, we can replicate that performance and satisfaction over and over again, every day we engage in work that is right-sized for us and for our unique set of talents.

Tom Rath's best-selling book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a wonderful tool for getting started on that road to conscious competence. Inside each copy is a unique identification number that allows access to a StrengthsFinder Profile on the Internet, a revolutionary program to help readers identify their talents, build them into strengths and enjoy consistent, near-perfect performance.

It's well worth the time and study to identify what you're really good at, what makes your heart sing, what hardly seems like work at all. Listening to that inner voice guides you to take the next step that is in keeping with who we really are -- where your strengths reside -- rather than into a role or a position where the world...and employment managers...might be trying to squeeze you.

Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, used to tell this story. A very poor Greek once applied for a job as a janitor in a bank in Athens. "Can you write?" demanded the discriminating head of employment. "Only my name," said the fellow. He didn't get the job -- so he borrowed the required money to travel steerage to the United States, the "land of opportunity."

Many years later an important Greek businessman held a press conference in his beautiful Wall Street office. At the conclusion, an enterprising reporter said, "You should write your memoirs." The gentleman smiled. "Impossible," he said, "I cannot write." The reporter was astounded. "Just think," he remarked, "how much farther you would have gone if you could write." The Greek should his head and said, "If I could write, I'd be a janitor."

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