Success is Playing to Your Strengths

By Dr Darryl Cross
Organisational psychologist and careers coach
Crossways Consulting

It was only a small heading in The Advertiser and the column that went with it was short, but it came as no surprise to that group of us who are organisational psychologists and career guidance counsellors. The heading read, “Drop out rate shock.” It went on to say that one in three university students considered leaving their course before graduation. Although the attrition rate is actually somewhere around 20%, this statistic belies the fact that a significant proportion of university students, as well as those in TAFE colleges and vocational or training institutes, are dissatisfied and demotivated.Maybe they did actually complete their course for a degree, adiploma or a certificate, but they end up just turning up and finishing it for the sake of doing so. What a waste of human potential.

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Disillusioned with their course and knowing that it holds little real interest for them, what do they do then? It is no wonder that so many in their 20s can be called the “lost generation” or the “troubled 20s.

“Why so? How is it that in this nation where we would pride ourselves as being the clever country and well educated, that we do not prepare our students and ourselves for a fulfilling vocation and a satisfying life? How is it that around 88% of the workforce lacks job satisfaction and goes through the motions simply in order to receive a salary? How is it that so many work in
order to live? They go to work in order to live for the weekend or for their hobbies or interests which are after-hours activities.

I am at pains to say to all my clients as well as to the MBA class that I teach, that all of us need to work to our strengths. What happens when you work to your strengths? Decades of research by Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chicks-sent-me-high-ee”) showed that real satisfaction occurs when we are “in the flow.” Some call it being “in the zone.” It’s those times when you’re so preoccupied that time stands still and you can’t believe that time has passed. Maybe you’re painting art, writing, working on your car, building a website, giving a presentation – whatever it is, you’re “in your element.” These activities give us energy rather than drain us (like work usually does). People become more alive because of these pursuits.

Now you may well say that that’s okay for hobbies and things, but that’s not possible at work. Who says? Sure, work is never going to be totally blissful and “in the zone” every hour of every day, but who says that you can’t gain more satisfaction while also earning a pay cheque?

The secret is determining your strengths. And don’t say you haven’t got any. I haven’t found anyone on the planet yet who doesn’t have some personal strengths and talents.

You may not be able to identify them yourself and you may need to see a careers coach to give you some tests and assess your talents and assets. The tragic tale however, is that irrespective of us being the so-called clever country, we do not spend time with our youth identifying their strengths and talents, encouraging them to explore their talents, helping them identify goals
to which they can work towards and helping them to be fulfilled. Certainly the education system doesn’t allow it. It is too intent on passing grades and gaining a TER score or completing Year 12. In this respect, education gets a big “F” for fail.

Is it little wonder that so many adolescents wander into post-secondary courses or jobs for which they are not suited. Is it little wonder that a good proportion drop out. Is it little wonder that most of the adult population go through the motions of work never really feeling fulfilled or satisfied or that they are making a significant contribution to themselves and to life.

Yes it’s tragic. But ask yourself what your own personal strengths might be. Get serious about finding out. If you’re not sure, ask your friends, family, and colleagues. Have the courage to step out and find your real talent. You only have one life and it deserves to be lived.

[Dr Darryl Cross is a clinical and organisational psychologist as well as a credentialed executive and personal coach. He is also an author, international speaker and university lecturer. Dr Darryl assists people to find their strengths and reach their goals. Further information on Dr Darryl can be seen at]