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Do you know what your gift is? Do you recognize that you have one? Do you use and share it regularly? Are you able to recognize other people’s gifts and help them put them to good use? An important trait of Transformative Leaders is that they are generous with their gift and they create an environment in which everyone discovers their own gift and brings it to everything they do. You notice I say “gift,” not “gifts.” This is because I am not referring merely to a list of skills that you have mastered and things you can do well. I’m talking about the unique gift that has been a constant contributor to your success and fulfillment as you have expressed it in various ways in different areas of your life.
Let me explain what I mean with a personal example. I believe my gift is empathy. I can see the world through other people’s eyes and relate to what they are thinking and feeling, and I can do this more or less subconsciously; it requires very little effort on my part, I just have a natural affinity for it and it happens by itself. This gift has enabled me to excel at developing and using several skills, generally those that apply to interpersonal dynamics, as is to be expected. As a professional facilitator, I have used my gift to help teams find common ground in the midst of chaos and disagreement. As a speaker, I am able to tailor my message to the audience in a way that makes a difference for them specifically. As a coach, I listen for what the person is dealing with and help them see things about their thought process that are hidden from their view. I can think of countless other ways that my gift has brought me success and fulfillment.
You may not have ever really thought about it long enough to figure out what your gift is, or you may be searching but yet to find anything you consider worthy of being called a gift. If that is you, please don’t be discouraged. Most people who discover their gift don’t do so as a result of going around searching for it or ruminating over why they haven’t already found it. With that said, however, the best chance for recognizing and utilizing your unique gift comes from knowing how to tell when you have found it. The problem isn’t that most people can’t find their gift, but rather that most people have already found it and used it without even realizing that fact! Wherever you are on your journey is just fine. I would just ask that you hang in there with this post because, while knowing your gift is not a pre-requisite to getting something valuable out of this post, it may very well be the result of reading and processing it.
Why is this even important? What’s the big deal with people being in touch with their gift? Well, the answer to that depends on whether you truly care about achieving extraordinary levels of success and fulfillment or not. A company that is just trying to make the numbers and a community that is just trying to survive can certainly get away with very few people using their gifts and telling everybody else what to do, but that is not sustainable for long. Certainly, the rate of innovation and excellence in execution that is required to be, and remain, the best in any industry cannot be achieved by a team whose members have been relegated to mindless button-pushers. What it takes to keep employees energized and committed demands much more than leaders whose motto is, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you!” As I see it, life is like a…“box of chocolates,” is what you thought I was going to say, right? Well, that too, but what I was going to say was that life is really like a potluck dinner; everybody brings something for everyone to enjoy. If only a few of us bring dishes and the rest only show up, it won’t end up being much fun and most of us will go home hungry.
Let’s talk about some practical reasons that keep us from offering the world the full benefit of our gift, leaving ourselves unfulfilled and those around us deprived of our best contributions. There are eight specific factors I’d like you to consider that might be impacting you being and showing up as the best version of you. Take whichever ones apply to you right now and go to work on them.
Eight reasons we don’t show up as our best self.
1. “I don’t know what my gift is.”
This is the most common starting point for a conversation about gifts. It may be true that you don’t know what your gift is, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have one! It just means you care enough about finding it to lament its absence, and that you have some work to do to find it. Think of your gift as what makes you you! You are, throughout all time and space, supremely unique in the very fact that you are the only you that will ever exist. Your very being itself constitutes your gift, whether you know it or not. The people you are closest to see you as who you are, not merely what you can do. If they were asked to describe what they most appreciate about you, they would say something about who you are to them and the very unique way in which you contribute to them. I am reminded of a very nice card I received from one of the employees at my previous workplace when I was leaving. It said, “Someone else will do your job but no one will ever take your place.” That is so true in everyone’s case. Others can do what you can do but it is your unique gift and how you express it that sets you apart form everyone else.
What to do – If you are intentional about discovering your gift and you set your mind to it, there are a number of ways you can go about it. Think of activities you enjoy and the work you naturally excel at, and see if you can pinpoint a specific trait or characteristic that you bring to all of those things that allows you achieve great things with ease and experience satisfaction. What if you were to simply ask the people who are closest to you what they thought your gift was? I’m sure you would get a great deal of powerful insight.
A great tool you may consider is strengthsfinder. The assessment shows you which of the 34 themes are more prevalent in your case. Whatever you do, whether you ask your friends, examine what you enjoy, or take a test, remain in the inquiry and it will be revealed to you. Some of the other factors listed below may also point you in the direction of the gift you have not been able to see.
2. A clueless boss.
We have all encountered this at some point in our career. This is a boss who just doesn’t see anything special in what you bring to the party. Not only do they not acknowledge your unique gift and encourage you to use it, they minimize the value of it by not noticing it is there. By doing so, they miss out on opportunities to let you shine and give the organization the benefit of your gift.
What to do – I know we would all prefer to have an empowering, emotionally intelligent boss but it is what it is. It is smart to work on an exit strategy in case you get fed up with the situation, but while you are still where you are, don’t let your boss’s weaknesses rob you of the fulfillment that comes with finding and sharing your gift. Use your gift without the expectation to be recognized. Do it for you and for those around you. We all have an inherent desire to be part of something extraordinary and we like to get some confirmation that this is the case. We can generally deal with it if we don’t get it from our boss. We either come to accept it or leave, but the greatest tragedy is when we choose to become indifferent to our gift simply because we are waiting in vain for others to give us the permission to express it.
3. An insecure boss
This one is a little tougher. There is hope for the clueless boss in that they may eventually see the positive effects of what you bring. They may still not totally understand how you do what you do, but at least for practical and financial reasons, they will probably give you a little more room to do what you do best. The insecure boss, however, is one who clearly sees your greatness and is threatened by it. They don’t want you to bring your gift to bear and look good, because it may make them look bad. This is hardly ever done out of malice; it is almost always because they themselves have either not discovered their own gift or have failed to realize how valuable their own contributions are to the world, and thus feel the need to diminish others to preserve their own sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, there are more cases of this than one could imagine. A couple of months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I got a frantic call from an old colleague that I hadn’t seen in 20 years. He was looking for help to put together a presentation that his boss had asked him to make to the CEO on that coming Monday. I had a very busy weekend but agreed to spend several hours with him to set him up for success. In the process of going back and forth to finalize the presentation, he confided in me that his boss had very clearly set him up to fail, knowing well that he was not going to be able to pull the presentation together on such short notice.
What to do – If this is your situation, you’ll need to decide if it’s worth it to stay and build enough credibility with other people in the organization or if you should create options that give you walk away power as soon as possible. In either case, while you are there, do everything you can to make sure you are being true to yourself. The best you is the real you, and while you may choose to employ tactics to mitigate the negative impacts of your boss’s insecurities, you must persevere and do the best you can to let your light shine and make a difference for others. In some cases, your very gift may be just what the doctor ordered for your insecure boss. I discovered a few years ago, in a coaching conversation with my daughter, that I was withholding my gift of empathy from a boss who was preoccupied with their own insecurities. This realization and the steps that followed made a huge difference in the quality of our professional relationship and significantly eased the tension between us. Had I not used my gift to make that happen, it would have just gotten worse.
4. “I don’t want people to think I think I’m better than them.”
If this is a reason that has stopped you, please understand it is all because you are more concerned about how you might look than the contribution you could make to others. You tend to withhold your gift because you don’t want to take a risk that others might think you’re a show off. The truth is that, in fact, many people don’t want to express their gift because they don’t feel they have permission to do so. Actually, sharing your gift with the world is what gives others the signal that they can do the same as well.
What to do – There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. As Alan Weiss puts it so eloquently, “Confidence is the honest belief that you’re highly capable of helping others. Arrogance is the honest belief you have nothing more to learn yourself.” Withholding your gift out of some sense of modesty is both selfish and vain. Using your gift to make a contribution is both magnanimous and humbling. Think about the contribution your gift makes to others, not about how good it makes you look. Understanding that “I am the One, and it’s not about me” means getting your focus off of yourself and what others might think of you, and on to the difference you can and should be making for others.
5. “My gift doesn’t make a difference.”
This is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. There are a number of possible reasons we tell ourselves and believe this lie. Maybe because it absolves us of the responsibility to do anything with our gift. Maybe because somebody put us down at some point in our lives and we chose to believe that they were somehow the arbiter of all value in the world. Or maybe it is because we simply can’t see the forest for the trees (or maybe we don’t notice the trees for the forest). Whatever the case may be, whether you know your gift or not, the truth is that there is no one who does not make a difference in the world in one way or another. Simply by existing, you have made a difference in the world already that no one else could have ever made, and that no one else will ever make again.
What to do – The first thing you have to do is to adopt a mindset that literally everybody, not just the good people or the talented people or the educated people, etc. but everybody matters and makes a difference. The second thing to do is question the assumptions we are making about what it means to make a difference. Who decides what constitutes a difference in the world? Does it matter who we make a difference for? Do we need to recognize ourselves for having made a difference to have actually made one? The third thing is to do an honest assessment of whether or not the profession that you are in is one where you can easily apply your gift and see results from doing so, and if not, decide whether you are going to make a change or look deeper into the difference you are already making exactly where you are.
6. “If I use my gift, it will make others feel inferior.”
This is a little different than others thinking you’re trying to show off. This is a case where you know others acknowledge your gift and the value of it, but you think that makes them feel less adequate and this leads you to play small and minimize the value of what you bring.
What to do – There are no better words that I can share with you than the words of Maryanne Williamson when she said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
7. “I’m waiting for the right opportunity to put my gift to use.”
This may simply be due to procrastination or an intentional delay in acting on our gift because we are waiting for some conditions to be met so we can maximize the benefits to ourselves or others. In either case, however, it is an excuse that only serves to justify our natural reticence to use our gift to contribute to others.
What to do – Keep in mind that life is too short and unpredictable to put off anything of importance. In the words of the late Wayne Dyer, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” I have personally missed so many opportunities to make a contribution because I was waiting for the right conditions. I know we are all guilty of putting things off sometimes and as the world is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, who knows whether the same opportunity would present itself again. Be on the look-out and if you see an opportunity to make a contribution, go for it. If you have been meaning to write a book, do it. If you have a message you want to spread, get on it. If you see an unmet need that you know how to meet, seize the moment to meet it.
8. Fear of success
You might be hesitant to share your gift because you’re afraid it might bring you success beyond what you have imagined and have prepared for.
What to do – Raise the bar on what’s possible and trust your ability to handle future success. Get out of your head about what might happen to you and focus on the difference you will make in the lives of others. The great thing about success is that it is a burden that you will find many people are willing to help you bear; the more you share, the easier it becomes to carry.
The Bottom Line:
Whether we have thought about it or not, we each have a gift that propels us to experience success and fulfillment. When we realize what this gift is and fully develop and express it in various aspects of our lives, we bring our best self to our workplaces, our families, and communities. Unfortunately, many of us have not consciously explored what this gift is and those of us who have some idea of what it might be, tend to suppress it for a variety of reasons. This post explores some of the common reasons that may be holding you back from fully sharing your gift and what you can do to get beyond those reasons and let your best self shine through.
Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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