Determining strengths and weaknesses is an integral part of most professionals’ personal development. After all, if you don’t know where you’re strongest, you may have trouble aligning your work with your best skills and may even miss the boat on developing essentials skills for the future. An array of evaluation tools has emerged to help in this endeavor.
But among the varied strengths and weaknesses any given person might have, there is usually a dominant gift—an attribute, skill, or ability that is stronger than the rest. Decorated police sergeant, author, and reality television star Derrick Levasseur—formerly on CBS’s Big Brother and currently on Investigative Discovery’s Breaking Homicide –calls them “superpowers.”
A fan of superhero franchises like The Avengers, Levasseur reasons that the difference between you and your coworker can be compared to the difference between Superman and Spiderman. Both have similar goals, but the exceptional abilities that can realize them may be quite different, as he explores in his new book, The Undercover Edge: Find Your Hidden Strengths, Learn to Adapt, and Build the Confidence to Win Life’s Game.
“Sometimes, in our society, we try and do what everyone else is doing to be successful when, in actuality, what we should be doing is using what’s successful to us,” he says.
While finding your superpower may seem like a frivolous exercise, determining your dominant strengths in this way can help you understand where you have a true advantage over pursuing the same goals. So, with a nod to the ubiquitous superhero presence in pop culture today, here are four questions that can help you uncover your own superpowers.
What feels effortless?
Think about the activities in which you are completely focused, and it’s easy to get to a place of peak performance. For some, this might be presenting. For others, it might be solving very complex analytical problems. Look for the areas in which you excel without much effort—those are likely indicators of your strongest abilities, says career coach Val Nelson.
“Something that you get into the flow zone with–what they call peak performance zone, where you lose track of time, it just feels so good, you feel one with the project—we’re probably using something that we have a high level of skill with when that’s happening,”
How do you amaze others?
Have you been told repeatedly that you’re good at something? Do people seek you out to give advice or input in particular areas or lend a hand with certain projects? This type of feedback and request for assistance could indicate where your superpowers lie, Levasseur says.
“You have to listen to what’s being said around you,” he says. That includes everything from casual comments to performance reviews. Look for patterns in the commentary to get clues about where you might be more effective than you think you are.
It’s not unusual for people to have blind spots about their exceptional strengths or even discount them because these skills or talents come so easily to them, Nelson says. Sometimes, it’s helpful to ask trusted colleagues or mentors about where they see your most dominant strengths, she says.
What makes you willing to sacrifice?
Superpowers are forged trough a combination of passion and mastery, says Danny Gutknecht, CEO and cofounder of recruitment and leadership advisory firm Pathways and coauthor of Meaning at Work and Its Hidden Language. “Passion” is not just in a way that makes you happy, but in a way that motivates you and makes you want to do more, even if it means hard work or other sacrifice.
He says he likes to ask people to think about what they’re going when time, “melts,” he says. “And you’re having so much joy that you’re willing to struggle for it?” For example, a nurse might say they love the clinical aspect of taking care of patients, even though it can be difficult, time-consuming work. But, instead, it makes them want to learn more and do their job better. “What are you doing when you have that deep interest that makes you want to do things better,” he asks. That’s a good indication of where your superpower lies.
When are you fearless?
Think back over your work and other experiences to where you were most confident. Are there times when you felt comfortable and confident enough to take measured risks and stretch your abilities? That comfort level is a sign that you have a true strength in that area, says organizational psychologist Katy Caselli, founder and president of Building Giants, LLC, a workforce training and development firm, and author of Building Giants: A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce Through Effective Training.
Often, the things that you’re good at are also things that you enjoy, she says. “If you go to work every day and you feel like you’ve done what you’re really good at, that is what helps you realize, ‘I really had a good day. I got to tinker. I got to learn. I got to figure something out for the company. I got to fix a problem. I got to make a team work better together,'” she says. Those feelings and thoughts are good indicators that you’re tapping into your strengths, she adds.
What can you see more clearly than others?
As an investigator, Levasseur is trained to be observant. He looks for crime-scene clues and watches the people he’s interrogating. But he also uses visualization to improve his skills. By taking time to mentally walk through the situation he’s about to enter, he also gains valuable insight about his own strengths and weaknesses, he says.
“I’ve been doing it since high school baseball all the way through college baseball all the way for search warrants when we’re going into houses with guys with guns,” he says. By mentally rehearsing the process, he feels like he’s already done it before the stakes are higher, which bolsters confidence. In addition, he can observe the areas he sees clearly, and with which he feels comfortable—his strengths—as well as the areas where he may be less strong and confident, he says.
Nelson warns that every superpower also has an Achilles heel, however. If you’re someone who’s good at motivating others and rallying them behind a cause, you may be impatient. If you’re an ace at troubleshooting and analyzing details, you may struggle with dealing with people and situations where details are uncertain or abstract. Exercises and tools that help you understand the weaknesses that typically correspond to your most exceptional strengths can help you be more successful in the long run, she says. “The more I understand it as a strength, the more I can bring the whole thing into full consciousness and mitigate the Achilles heel for that,” she says.
Levasseur says that getting clarity about your strengths can make all the difference in your career and life. “The No. 1 thing you can do is determine your strengths, determine your superpowers. Because we’re all individuals, and although we’re all capable of accomplishing our goals, there’s no predetermined way to do that,” he says. “Before we can even tackle our mission, before we can even tackle our objectives, self-awareness and understanding who you are and what you excel at is the No. 1 step in anything you do.”