Find Your Hidden Strengths

We often talk about the importance of doing an honest self-assessment as part of the coping process. Developing a sense of empowerment and facing challenges can be greatly facilitated when you have a good idea of your strengths. Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook them and sell yourself short.

I remember an adult student who came to chat with me during her final semester of college. When she entered college seven years earlier, she had already raised two children who were both in college themselves. She wanted to enter the workforce but decided that first she needed to get her college degree. “I got married a couple of years out of high school and we immediately started having kids. I was strictly a stay-at-home mom.”

She was still married when she entered college. Along with some domestic responsibilities she was also a parent of college students, so most semesters she carried a part-time course load, and also took summer courses. The road to graduation turned out to be long – seven years — but she did it and was approaching 50 when she graduated.

Sitting in my office about three months before commencement, she lamented, “I’ve never had any work experience to speak of, and I’m nearly 50! How can I put a resume’ together that an employer will notice? I have no job experience or skills.”

I said, “You need to think outside the box here. Sure, you have your college degree, but you have no work experience. Still, there must be some things that you bring to the table.” She laughed and said, “I raised two kids!” Ah ha! Now we had something to work with.

Over the next 10 minutes or so we had a good time coming up with some of the “work skills and traits” she had acquired over nearly 25 years of raising kids. Our list included: persistence; patience; cook; organizer; planner; psychologist; therapist; problem solver; teacher; first-aid “nurse”; mediator; mentor; role model; disciplinarian; judge. All that, plus her outgoing, modest, and positive interpersonal style, formed quite a good package.

I also told her to include a statement that her work experience and parental skills were apparently successful given the fact that when both her kids were in college, they held part-time jobs to help with costs, maintained above average grades, and graduated on time.

She put together a somewhat unconventional resume’, but it showed her maturity, sense of humor, and realistic perspective about how she could contribute to an organization. She had five interviews all of which resulted in job offers. Nothing supervisory, of course, but solid positions that offered her the chance for advancement.

When you’re faced with challenges, it’s easy to sell yourself short and avoid confronting hurdles because you tell yourself, “I don’t have the skills to take this on.” Until you make an honest and realistic assessment of your skills, however, and allow yourself to think broadly and creatively, you’ll never know.

One thing for sure: You don’t want to live the rest of your life tormented with thoughts of, “I wonder what would have happened if I….?” My adult student didn’t.

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