Career Mastery, Part 2: How To Uncover Your Unique Abilities And Use Them To Serve Your Purpose
By John Berardi, PhDCareer Planning
The health and fitness industry is full of passionate professionals, driven by a soul-stirring mission: To help others live healthier, longer, and stronger lives. But passion isn’t enough, for you or your clients. Which is why this 3-part series outlines a step-by-step process for turning passion into purpose and purpose into a successful career. In part 2, how to uncover your unique abilities.
In part 1 of this career mastery series we talked about how to go beyond cliches to clearly define your purpose. If you haven’t yet done the exercises outlined in that article, I highly recommend starting there. Because these two concepts are intimately connected.
If you think of your purpose as WHY you’re doing what you do, you can think of your unique abilities as HOW to best live out that purpose, using your one-of-a-kind skills and talents.
I Paced My Office Like A Caged Lion
While my explicitly defined purpose (outlined in part 1 of this series) kept me committed and motivated, there were still some days that ended with me feeling restless and annoyed, like there was a strange, hard-to-reach itch that I just wouldn’t scratch.
This affected not only me but my family. On nights I finished work feeling satisfied, I was a better parent and partner, full of joy, enthusiasm, and playfulness. But when I finished feeling “itchy,” I was distracted, short-tempered, and preoccupied.
I remember one day as “the day that broke the camel’s back.” It was completely dominated by video conferences, one management meeting after another until the day was over. Despite hours of work, I felt like I’d accomplished nothing. It was infuriating.
As my work day ended, I paced my office like a caged lion. It took me hours to get over the fact that I was not doing the work that mattered to me. Even worse, during those after-work hours I realized I wasn’t the kind of parent or partner I wanted to be.
This was happening far more often than I wanted it to. I wasn’t sure what, but something needed to change. Somewhat serendipitously, Precision Nutrition’s co-founder Phil was in a leadership course that week learning more about the unique abilities concept, and he taught it to me.
Introducing Unique Abilities
Popularized by Dan Sullivan, one of the world’s most influential entrepreneurship coaches, and outlined in the Unique Ability 2.0 book by Catherine Nomura, Julia Waller, and Shannon Waller, unique abilities are described by:
Superior skill. You produce outstanding results with your unique ability. It’s so natural you can’t help but do this extraordinarily well. Others notice this skill, rely on it, and value it.
Passion. You love to do this, and probably did it in some form long before you got paid for it. (In fact, many people continue to give their unique ability away for free because they don’t recognize how special it is.)
Energy. Using your unique ability gives you a boost of energy. The people around you get energy from you too, because it’s fun and exciting to be around someone who’s passionate and talented at what they’re doing. Likewise, when you surround yourself with other people living their unique abilities, your days are filled with positivity, dynamism, and creativity.
Never-ending improvement. You’re already exceptional at this, yet you could do it for the rest of your life and always find new ways to get better and better.
I’ve come to think of unique abilities as the things that:
- You are, or have the potential to be, world-class at.
- You really enjoy doing.
- You can make a big difference with, if you use them.
Of course, once I learned about unique abilities, and went through the process to discover mine, it became clear why some work days ended with me feeling great while others ended with me feeling unsatisfied.
Turns out, the “feeling great” days were spent mostly within my unique abilities, using my superpowers. And the “unsatisfied days” were spent outside of them, with kryptonite strapped to my chest.
What’s more, when I started analyzing my work to figure out how much time I spent in my unique abilities, and how much time I spent outside of them, I realized I was out of balance.
While I knew it was unreasonable to expect to spend 100 percent of my time within my unique abilities, it became clear I was spending far more time outside of them than within. And this was hurting me, my family, and even our organization. So I took steps to shift the balance.
Going through this was such a breakthrough that Phil and I ended up using the unique ability process across our organization. Who wouldn’t want to spend most of their day doing the things they enjoy, they’re world class at, and they can make a difference with? What company wouldn’t want the same: a team full of satisfied individuals doing world class work that makes a difference for the organization?
Uncovering Your Unique Abilities
If you’re ready to discover your unique abilities, here’s what to do.
Contact five to ten colleagues, friends, other people you’re close to.
These should be people who really get you, who know what makes you shine, who count on you. Ideally, they should come from a cross-section of your life (not all friends or all family or all co-workers, for instance; you want a diversity of opinions, which will actually help reinforce common themes).
Ask them if they’d be willing to take a few minutes and create a list with a dozen or so things that come to mind when they think about you. If they’re up for it, email them the following questions:
- What are the talents or abilities or characteristics that describe me?
- What makes me tick?
- What do you count on me for?
- How would you describe my way of doing things?
- Is there anything that impresses you about who I am?
Make clear that these characteristics don’t need to reflect your hobbies, interests, or even work history. Rather, these are the things they’ve relied on you for or have appreciated about you.
Come up with your own answers.
Independently, make your own list, ideally before you get responses back. Answer the same questions you emailed your trusted list, as well as some others.
- What are the talents or abilities or characteristics that describe me?
- What makes me tick?
- What do people count on me for?
- What is “my way” of doing things?
- What makes other people impressed with who I am?
- What are the things I’m most passionate about?
- What’s important to me?
- What have been my greatest accomplishments so far?
- What are my goals—personal, family, career, life?
- Whom do I admire? Why? What can I learn from them?
Identify common themes.
Once everyone’s responded, gather the replies. Identify common words, phrases, or themes. Make a list of ten or so that come up most often.
Next to each item, write down why you think the person said it about you, specifically write the things you do that might make them say what they said.
Create your unique ability statements.
Take the ten most common themes from Step 3 and turn each into a unique ability statement.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a 5-minute compilation. Take your time with it—spend a few hours over several days to get the wording just right—because it’s important.
Think of it as an official document that clearly expresses your superpowers, just like how you’d cite your work experience in a resume. You’ll review this list often to make sure you’re staying in balance.
If you’d like an example of what this could look like, I’ve created a one-pager of my own unique ability statements, which I keep posted in my office to remind me of what I should be spending time on, and how.
Here’s what’s on my list.
John Berardi’s Unique Abilities
Delivering and communicating information. Both formally (blog posts, books, products, speaking) and in personal communication.
Getting other communicators of ideas to a better, more thoughtful, or more resonant idea. Both in formal editing and in facilitating communication between people.
Assumption finding. Seeing and calling out all the assumptions, clichés, and shortcuts in people’s plans and thoughts, and asking, “What if we didn’t do it that way?”
Intentionally putting mission-critical projects past the point of no return. In a moment of clear-thinking, committing to a deadline or powerful external force that compels a team to deliver on a commitment or face massive loss / embarrassment if they don’t.
Honesty and integrity. Being the same person across roles. Being willing to tell the truth, even when it’s difficult, and being willing to commit to the subsequent conversations that happen as a result.
Gaining people’s trust and emphasizing “togetherness.” Carefully managing voice and body language; never pretending or elevating. Sharing only an authentic message and orienting the message to the audience. Making people feel like we’re “in it together,” that it’s not “me vs. them,” that I’m going through this too.
Reflective thinking. Thinking about things before expounding on something aloud. Keeping silent until qualified or prepared to speak. Being willing to say, “I don’t know.”
Asserting authority. Confidently speaking up in areas where I do know. Relying on my self-assurance and confidence in my own capability.
Appreciation. Noticing when people do good things and letting them know I feel that way.
Devising and imposing structure on chaos. Putting plans together, short term and long term, to get what we need out of the chaos. Committing to figuring it out whenever something is in our way.
Asking thoughtful questions. Asking questions that I’m genuinely curious to know the answers to and that I feel are relevant/interesting to me and to the person I’m asking.
Mirror, mimic, and copy success. Before beginning new projects finding an example or template that represents excellent, high-quality work and then modifying it, shaping it, adapt it to serve our needs.
Remember, these statements come from friends, family, and colleagues. They’re not necessarily what I think about myself. Rather, they’re what they think of me. This is essential because most people (myself included) struggle to identify their unique abilities.
I recently walked into the kitchen as my eight-year-old daughter was working on a craft. I asked what she was up to and she described the project to me. After asking a bunch of follow-up questions: “Why are you doing it this way? Why not that way? I’m wondering if this might improve the project?” she looked up and said, “Dad, you know what’s really cool about you? I always start projects like this and have an idea of how they should go. Then, I include you in the project, and you always give me ideas to make it better. You’re really good at that.”
Cute, I know. But also instructive. Before going through the unique ability process, I wouldn’t have listed this as one of mine.
In many ways, I’ve historically undervalued this thing about myself because it’s come easy to me and not everyone is receptive to it. Which is why I need friends, family, colleagues—even my eight-year-old—to help uncover my unique abilities. And so do you.
Spending Time in Your Unique Abilities
But the unique abilities process doesn’t end there. While identifying unique abilities is a big first step, the next is to find ways in which you can better integrate them into your work.
To do this at Precision Nutrition, our team members log all the different kinds of tasks they do in a week. Then they place those tasks in one of the following quadrants: unique ability activities, excellent activities, competent activities, and incompetent activities.
Once you’ve identified your unique abilities, give this last step a try. Figure out how much of your week is spent doing tasks within your unique abilities. If 80 percent of your time is spent in the unique ability quadrant, everyone’s happy. If it’s not very much, consider how to slowly transition out of the other quadrants and into your superpowers.
Keep in mind: it’s not always comfortable to identify mismatches between how you’re spending your time and how you should be spending your time for happiness and fulfillment. Sometimes these mismatches will even suggest that you need massive changes in your life.
However, the investment is worth it. Explicitly defining your purpose, and then putting your unique abilities in the service of that purpose, is your most reliable path to career satisfaction and success.
But there’s one more step, which I’ll cover in part 3 of this series.
In The Meantime, Want To Learn More? Go Deeper?
Then download this FREE sample of my latest book, Change Maker.
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Whether you work as a health coach, strength coach, nutritionist, functional medicine doc, or rehab specialist, Change Maker will help you discover the right direction to take, the fastest way to make progress, and the practical steps required to build the career of your dreams in health and fitness.
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