Play to Your Strengths

A big part of self-awareness is being cognizant of both your weaknesses and your strengths. In our hyper-sensitive and social-media centered culture, more often than not,  we present a version of ourselves that is more well rounded rather than extreme in any given area. Flexibility is praised and “improvement” and “participation” are more celebrated than excellence. As we all attempt to assert our individuality we end up comparing ourselves to our peers and judging our success and performance by how we measure up against individuals who have completely different skillsets from us.

I’ve spent the last seven years trying to figure out what industry I wanted to work in and the last three years discovering what my strengths and weaknesses are. Working in marketing, sales, accounting, real estate, finance, and management has given my resume too much to work with and padded my LinkedIn page quite nicely, but it has left me feeling like I don’t belong in any given area. It’s frustrating as well to see the distinct dichotomy that exists in the workforce between those who know what they want to do and those who don’t. Ultimately, the last couple of years have given me ample time for soul searching and asking some very difficult questions about what it is that I am actually passionate about.

I currently work two jobs: a morning part-time job at an accounting/consulting firm and a full-time operations management job at a Chick-fil-A franchise. The pace is something I have yet to fully acclimate to. The story of these two jobs has a little more detail that makes it more relevant to today’s blog post. Let’s start with the full-time job:

Chick-fil-A is somewhere that I worked while I was in college. Shortly after I graduated I left to pursue some full-time jobs that were more in line with my major. However, in December of 2016, after I had reached my breaking point at Honda Finance (a story for another day), I decided to, in the interim, come back to work at CFA as a regular team member stripped of all managerial responsibilities. It was rough until the owner/operator sat me down and offered me a position as one of his directors. This role was unlike any role I had ever taken before. Not only did it allow me to see the analytical side of the restaurant but it gave me the opportunity to manage people. I love to optimize processes, and this position gave me the opportunity to do this on a daily basis. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, however. Even though this job had its share of benefits including paid time off, free meals when I worked, and face time with a previous brand manager for Nestle, the cons often felt like they outweighed the pros. Almost all of our team members and management were students which meant turnover was high, it was hard to prioritize personal growth and development when the volume was volatile and sometimes unpredictable, and oftentimes emotions ruled the workplace much more than they should have.

In March of 2018, I decided that my one job wasn’t providing for my financial needs or my short-term and long-term financial goals so I began to touch up my LinkedIn account. Daunted by the prospect of working two blue-collar jobs, I downloaded a shady-sounding app called NextDoor, that was basically a neighborhood watch app. Now, I know that it is the middle-aged and young parent rant-about-politics-and-noisy-neighbors group. Anywho, I posted a pretty desperate paragraph in that app and basically forgot about it for a month or so. You can see it here:57F7C720-6244-47C0-BF67-FF51ECE3E72C

Funny stuff, right?

I literally pulled everything I had and put it in this random and desperate little post. Shortly before having the idea to post this here, I remember looking at my expenses and looking at how much I needed to save and saying “God, I need more money. I have no clue how to get it, but you know that I need it to survive. Soooo… help?” Not a month later, while I was on a date with my mom trying some exotic Chinese food, I got a message from a lady who asked if I was still interested in part-time work. She asked if I could come in for an interview the following day, after explaining that the position she was offering was for an accounting/consulting firm. I explained that, ironically, I couldn’t make it the following day because I was in San Diego to actually file my grandpa’s taxes as part of a three-year program my dad was having me do in order to “expose” me to as much as possible. The night before that interview I did my standard background check of the company that consisted of following all links on their website to see if any were dead, checking their glassdoor reviews, and seeing who worked there on LinkedIn. I remember falling asleep while doubting the legitimacy of this company.

I walked into that interview just like I have to other interviews: suit and tie, resume at the ready, and my Core-4 at full blast. (For those of you who don’t know what Core-4 is, I’ll go over it in one of my next blogs about Chick-fil-a. In summary, the Core-4 consists of Creating Eye Contact, Sharing a Smile, Speaking Enthusiastically, and Staying connected.) I’ll never forget that interview. They started with the standard questions about dedication and commitment that most interviews start with: What are you looking for, why are you leaving your previous job, where do you see yourself in a couple years? Even though I had thought about the answers to these questions, I was scrambling because I didn’t want to lie about the fact that I was looking for a very very very part-time job. And to exacerbate my anxiety, because I also hire at Chick-fil-A, I know that availability and commitment are make-or-break points that hiring decisions are built upon. As I tried to dance around my answers to the initial questions, the gentleman conducting the interview stopped me rather abruptly with a face and posture of annoyance. He abruptly told me something I had never, ever heard before.

“Paul, let me clarify. We want to hire you regardless of how much you want to work. We’ve wanted to hire you after reading the post that you wrote on the app that my daughter found. Where did you learn to write like that? And how have you not been hired yet?”

That was basically the interview. They asked me how much it would cost to employ me. I lowballed it and then they went above what I asked for. I do normal work for them, nothing extraordinary or deserving of favor. Yet they are extremely gracious with adjusting my schedule, being empathetic to the fact that I work two jobs, and constantly surprising me with monetary generosity as they continue to increase my wage and responsibilities. I’ve been there for almost four months and I’ve gotten more raises there then I have my entire life. They constantly praise my ability to communicate and my work ethic. The craziest part is that I don’t even see myself working aggressively there to gain recognition.

If you know me, then you know that post-grad has been difficult. Failure is my ex that I can’t seem to get over. While I’m comfortable talking about her now, she always finds a way to slide into my DMs and remind me that she is the one who defines me. Whether it be failing out of engineering or being unable to find a home in any area of business, I hear her taunts loud and clear. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, what I’ve tried to change, what strengths I’ve tried to hone, I just feel like a lost puzzle piece in the wrong box: I don’t fit anywhere.

And I think that’s where the beauty of this whole situation stems from. God knows that I love optimizing things. He also knows that I love people whether that be working side by side, developing, or just doing life on a daily basis. So he knew that Chick-fil-A would be an awesome opportunity for me to hone those skills and to cultivate those passions. However, He also knew that I would need more financially and that even though I gave out words of affirmation, that I also needed it. So then He provided this second job in order to fulfill the needs I was aware of, and then some.

I just feel like a lost puzzle piece in the wrong box: I don’t fit anywhere.

I think the craziest part of this, is the orchestration necessary for me to have gotten the job in the first place. My dad who I thought was just trying to make an accountant out of me, had to be given the idea of having me attain experience through processing my grandpa’s taxes. I had to randomly find this neighborhood watch app, which also had to be randomly found by the CEO of the company. The timing of when I wrote this had to be perfect in order to coincide with a need for more income, but not a “drop everything because I have no money” need. This job would also not have been possible if I was not working solely nights at Chick-fil-A.

This kind of job doesn’t just normally exist, and I think that it’s an awesome reminder of how God provides even when we ask out of desperation or sometimes even somewhat apathetically.

This didn’t all start with writing, but writing was definitely incorporated into the process that helped me get this job. I haven’t always enjoyed writing, but in the past few years, it has been a therapeutic and helpful exercise in me becoming more self-aware of how I think and process. I pride myself in being an above average communicator. I don’t always know what to say and I often misread body language and tone, however, I always try to better understand those around me. For a long time, I just invested time into being mediocre at a bunch of things instead of investing time into pre-existing strengths. If you’ve ever played a tactical RPG, you get a certain number of skill points that you must budget over your entire character. You MUST specialize or else you will ultimately get stuck in the game because you are not excellent enough at anything to battle the increasingly more challenging enemies that you face.

Life is a lot like a tactical RPG in the sense that we were all made uniquely with our own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Why do we strive to emulate those who are nothing like us? Why do we compare ourselves to our peers who have different skillsets?

My challenge to you is to figure out what a handful of your strengths are. What comes easily and what are you excited about? Maybe now isn’t the time to drop everything and pursue a vocation that utilizes those skills, but knowing is half the battle.

Besides, it might come in handy the next time you have an interview and they ask you what your strengths are.

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