How do I identify talents? How to find out what you’re really good at

Katja Mayer 09.11.2016
Some people are good at drawing, or they can listen well, design and construct things, or teach people. Others can’t do those things — and they look up to people who do have those talents with great admiration (or envy). Yes those who encounter respect, or instead rejection, often have no idea why.

Do you have a knack for certain tasks?

The special thing about talents is that they are taken for granted by the person who has them. Talented people find their strengths to be normal. It often doesn’t occur to them that what they do so well and so easily is a big achievement for others. And so they look baffled when asked about any special aptitudes they might have: “Talents? I don’t have any!”

Many talents therefore remain unused or play a marginal, underappreciated role instead of being supported and developed. Often, people who have them make efforts to acquire some other skills that are supposedly more important for the job. One thing they especially like to do is try to eliminate their supposed weaknesses. Yet most of them find it just as difficult to identify those.  

Discover your strengths and talents!

If you’re looking for your own talents, it helps to first ask people who know you well:

  • What can I do very well in your view?
  • What sort of person am I?
  • What makes me unique?

No doubt you won’t like everything you hear. Generally, though, you’ll be surprised at how much comes to light! Some of it you may have suspected already. But it only becomes really relevant through external confirmation. Furthermore, the same approach can be used to find not just your abilities but also your essential qualities. What’s the difference?

It’s simple: being able to perform calculations well is an example of an ability that physicists should have so they can assess their experiments. The good thing is that most abilities can be learned.

Diligence, on the other hand, is a quality that those same physicists need in order to document the measurements correctly afterward. Because these qualities describe the basic approach a person takes toward things, they are at least as important as abilities. Qualities like conscientiousness, openness, curiosity or extroversion are what make up a personality in the first place.

Career aptitude test

Another way to discover your talents is to take a test. Specifically, this will allow you to find out what your strengths are. The classics are career aptitude or recruitment tests. These show what your strengths are but also indicate areas where there is potential for improvement.

You can find many tests of this kind, including free tests, on the Internet. It is certainly worthwhile to take one or two of these tests. Of course, you can really never know enough about where your strengths and weaknesses lie ... Naturally, you can also find personality tests on the Internet, but these should be of a certain caliber in order to be meaningful. Most of the ones you find there are either a mess or cost a great deal of money. One test that’s quite good is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – but it’s not available for free.

Practice, practice, practice!

One of the main reasons knowing your talents is useful is that you can benefit from them in your career. After all, if you have a particular gift for something, you’re more likely to find it easy and enjoy doing it. Nevertheless, no one is born a master. It takes practice to achieve any kind of proficiency. The best example of this is musicians, who practice until the strings break or their fingers dart across the piano keys without their looking. And the same goes for athletes, who train sequences of movements so long that they can be performed almost automatically.

It is said that you have to practice a thing approximately 10,000 hours until you really master it. In his bestseller “Outliers,” for example, U.S. author Malcom Gladwell writes that 10,000 hours of effort is what makes the crucial difference.. According to his research, the best soloists practiced at least 10,000 hours in their childhood and youth. Those who practiced only 4,000 hours, on the other hand, became at best music teachers — although both groups of people were initially roughly equal in talent.

Naturally, without any kind of talent at all, success would presumably remain elusive. But hard work, perseverance and commitment often outmatch even talented persons. At first, for example, Oliver Kahn was only moderately gifted as a goalkeeper. But since he wanted to become a top-ranked goalkeeper, he made an all-out effort in his training — and edged out even some highly praised young hopefuls who thought their talent alone was enough to see them through.

Full speed ahead!

If you want to develop in a certain direction — let’s say to become a software developer — you first have to know what abilities you need for that. The best thing is to ask software developers themselves what they need to be able to do for their job — among your acquaintances, in online forums, or at our partner SAP. The more input and tips you receive from the field itself, the better you’ll know what’s really involved. In the second step, you look at what strengths you already have. This is where the tests mentioned above come into play. They give you tips about what sort of training or practice you need to be successful, or what you’ll have to learn from scratch. And then you put your nose to the grindstone!

The same applies to the personal qualities. To a certain extent, they can be trained too — but it’s more difficult. For example, an introverted person can learn to become more open and approach others more easily. On the other hand, it’s not as though someone like this will learn to crave the limelight. What’s more important is that you pursue your goal resolutely and single-mindedly. This also involves tolerance for frustration so that you’re not discouraged by setbacks. Above all, however, you really have to want what you’re doing. The goal that you pursue has to be your own. Only then will you have the energy needed to be able to achieve it — or even grow beyond it.

Book recommendation: “Defeats are important … No one just climbs higher and higher up the career ladder all the time,” says Peter Olsson, who wrote a book on the subject titled “Recognize Your Talent: What We Can Learn from Professional Athletes and Top Managers.”

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