At the age of ten, I was spotted as a future swimming star. At the age of twenty, having just retired from the sport I was sat next to one of my old coaches at a swim meet chatting about nothing in particular, when he told me that I could have made it, I should have shone, not fizzled the way that I had.
I was dumbfounded – this was the first time in a decade that someone had spoken to me about my potential. As I struggled to gain some form of composure, all I could ask was ‘why didn’t you tell me, why didn’t you say something?’ I had spent nearly four hours a day, seven days a week with coaches such as he, yet nothing had ever been said.
Maybe I should have known?
The reality is that we frequently fail to recognise our gifts, our strengths, and our unique and not so unique abilities, because they come easily to us. We are taught that we must work for the good things in life, the things that are important, while that which comes easily doesn’t have the same value or kudos.
As adults we are also taught to keep our heads down, not to shine too brightly in fear of attracting negative attention, or being chastised and derided should we make a mistake. After all there’s a lot at stake here, salary, security, lifestyle. We learn to homogenise ourselves to survive.
Potential and success are about your personal uniqueness, creativity, fulfilment and commitment. It is likely that to achieve these things you will need to take some personal risks, however small. You will need to put your head above the parapet.
Risk 1 – Define your own strengths
Even people with crippling self esteem issues can muster some strengths. Go as far back as you need to. One woman I worked with went back to her first years at school where she was commended for her cutting-out skills. As an adult she cherished this. On examination this had developed into incredible levels of accuracy and attention to detail. Your strengths are there for you to discover – you just have to slow down and focus, and they will become apparent.
Risk 2 – What happens when you are under pressure?
This develops the strengths from Risk (1). When we face adversity our natural strengths and gifts jump in to help us. History is full of grand examples – Elizabeth I at Tilbury Docks as she rallied the troops against the Spanish armada, Winston Churchill during the Blitz. They may be extreme examples, but they were individuals nonetheless – when the deadline looms it’s amazing what can be achieved.
Risk 3 – Ask
Take a deep breath and ask others for feedback, and to define what they see as your strengths. We quite often miss things or fail to value them, they lurk in our blind spot. You may be surprised by what comes back, or they may confirm what you already know. Getting feedback can sometimes feel very uncomfortable no matter how positively it’s given. Get a second opinion from someone who will tell you the truth if it’s something you are unsure about. If they confirm it, take it on board and work with it.
Risk 4 – Spread your circle of input
Generally it is accepted that you get some form of feedback at work, possibly not the type discussed but nonetheless feedback. My suggestion is you ask your family, your friends those people who know you. Maybe even ask someone at work who is not your line manager, someone you admire and would value input from. Bear in mind you need to have some form of relationship with this person for them to give you any form of meaningful information.
Risk 5 – Giving as well as getting
If you are the one being asked for feedback and clarity in this area, ask some questions about what has brought this person to this point, what development outcomes do they have/aspire to. Divorce your thinking from corporate outcomes and targets and think about the individual before you. This person wants to change and grow. It is quite a complement to be asked to assist, so be honest, fair, unbiased and supportive. It is important to note that corporate performance reviews, pay reviews and 360 degree reviews do not constitute asking, or feedback. They are invariably a mechanism to ensure business targets are met.
Risk 6 – Absorb and act
So you have all this new information, the key is to process it and act on it. Keep it in view so you can start forming it into an outcome. Start looking out for opportunities that would make the most of you and you of it.
If you want to grow, develop and achieve your full potential, you need to take control to revive your skills, strengths and creativity. Don’t be the one looking back wondering why no one told you about your potential. Dive in.