Exploit Your Strengths to Become an Expert in Your Field

by in Articles on 11th Oct 2010 · Comments

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and each of us varies in how good we are in one area over another. Design and development are very talent-driven fields, and because of this, there seems to be a lot of professionals out there who focus on constantly building their weaknesses in order to improve in their practice.

There can be a real problem with this though. By always focusing on your weaknesses, you never build upon your strengths. Without doing this, you can never really develop your skills to the point you'd like to. In this post, we're going to talk about a new method for improving as a web designer, graphic designer, developer, or just as a freelancer. This new method focuses on our natural talents; what we're already good at, and not our weaknesses or points of defeat.

Exploit Your Strengths to Become an Expert in Your Field

Why Focusing on a Weakness is Bad

It seems almost logical: you have a negative point in your work that you'd like to improve, so you practice and practice until you get better. Practice makes perfect, right? There is no doubt that by doing this you are making your weak point stronger, but what about all of your other points?

Why Focusing on a Weakness is Bad
Image credit: Darwin Bell

If you are always focusing on your downsides and lack of talents, you may begin to feel as though you have very few skills overall. This can cause a lack in confidence, and therefore a lack in the quality of your work. By focusing only on what you’re bad at, even if you feel it is essential to win over those bad skills, you begin to perceive yourself in a very negative mindset.

Scenario

Let's say you're a designer who can grasp the concepts of design easily. You've rocked at all your art classes since the 2nd grade. In college, you got featured in a few graphic design showcases, and had some really cool people get in touch with you. You have years of experience in design, and now in your professional life, you are always being applauded for your natural talents and creativity.

Now, you do a lot of web design work, and people love what you create in Photoshop. However, when it comes to development you are lost. You know HTML, CSS, and a few more snippets from some development languages. You can work your way around WordPress if you have to. Are you a great developer though, one that knows all the latest technologies, most efficient codes, and compliant standards? The answer is no; it's just not your God-given talent. So, to make up for it, you read development books, study, and get better at development to expand your professional horizons.

Where is All Your Energy Going?

Keeping the above scenario in mind, how are you as a designer growing? Yes, you've improved your development skills. That's great! Yet, with your strength being in design, if you would have exerted the same energy into designing new things and/or improving your design skills, you would have been far more productive. On top of that, which would you have enjoyed more? As a designer, how are your new development skills going to benefit you, in contrast to if you had built upon your design skills? Now, you are now just a designer with mediocre development skills, and the same skill level in design.

How many clients will want a mediocre developer? Not many. In contrast, how many clients will want a great designer (even if it costs a bit more), that can outsource to a great developer?

Focus on Your Natural Strengths Instead

Instead of going from bad to mediocre with a weakness, why not go from good to great with a talent? Those who are great at what they do get the most clients, and are at the top of their game. Those who are mediocre at everything just focus a lot of time and energy on being 'sufficient.'

Focus on Your Natural Strengths Instead
Image credit: Ramsey Everydaypants

Scenario

You're a freelancer with a range of talents. You can design, code, write, and blog, and you love being a Jack of All Trades. Among all things, you're pretty basic at everything you do. Nothing is really your specialty, but you get by because you're a good freelancer. You have business skills.
There are tons of freelancers out there that are successful because they know how to communicate, gain new clients, and market effectively. Essentially, their multiple skills are just in support of their business talents. On the other hand, there are plenty of freelancers out there who are unknown, with some pretty amazing work.

Making it Work

For someone in this situation, it could be very beneficial to recognize that business strength and build upon it. Instead of this person always trying to grow their design skills, or learning how to write more efficiently, it could be better to outsource work, manage a business, and still work freelance. A person like this could focus more on marketing, and use the skills they do have to write buzz pieces, sell designs, and find clients. Then, they could use their communication skills to grow a team and manage a client project with subcontracts.

Listen to What Others Praise

Are others always complimenting you on your work? If so, what type of work is that for? For many freelancers or professionals in a similar field, it may not always be what they thought was their specialty. Some designers get into design and work hard at it everyday, only to find that they enjoy the development portion more, and that they get the most compliments on it. Vice versa, some developers start doing a bit of design work, only to realize that they have more creativity and design talent than they had originally thought.

Listen to What Others Praise
Image credit: Caro Wallis

Doing What You Love vs. What You're Good At

Fortunately, doing what you're good at and what you love come hand in hand. If you like doing something, you do more of it, and you learn more from it everyday. This makes you better at it, and in a way, you are focusing on your strengths already. At other times, you may enjoy doing multiple things. If you are a designer, you probably enjoy other things — writing, cooking, or perhaps photography. If you do any of those other things professionally and get a lot of praise for your work, why not change your specialty a bit? Why not focus more on your other loved talent, as long as you enjoy doing it just as much?

If there is something that you happen to be good at that you just aren't interested in anymore, then by all means, leave it behind. Everyone has multiple skills and talents, and you don't have to be bummed just because you feel the need to embrace a talent that bores you.

Observe Your Competition

Look at what others in your area of expertise are doing, but don't compare yourself in a negative way. Instead, look at what they’re doing to know what the standards are, understand up-to-date technologies, and to get the latest trends in your particular practice. Then, embrace your differences. Much of the time designers, or otherwise, will look at another designer’s work and notice something that they're not good enough at yet. They see another designer who is skilled in a particular area, and they want to imitate. Instead, look at what you know that they don't.

Observe Your Competition
Image credit: Lumaxart

Not only can this help your self confidence and improve the work you do, but it can also help you define a better marketing strategy when it comes to picking up work. Focus on the talents you're good at, and what your competition could improve on. Market yourself in that way, and you can become an expert at whatever particular skill that is. If you see another person who is good at something, why waste all your energy trying to win over them? They're good at some things, and you're good at others. Take the time to embrace the skills you already have, and don't ruin the confidence you have on the talents you don't have. It won't get you anywhere!

Carving Out a Niche

Every professional needs a specialty to focus on; that's been said again and again. There are thousands of articles across the web to help one do just that, and they all say the same thing: think about what you're good at. Your strengths are the answer to what you're niche should be. If you craft your business and profession around that strength, you'll have the ability to constantly be building on it. You won't need to worry about your weaknesses half the time, and you'll already be close to expert level in your specialty, even when starting out.

Carving Out a Niche
Image credit: michele cat

By choosing a specialty, you can begin focusing all of your clients, side projects, blogging, and whatever else around that specialty. You'll be able to do what you do much more efficiently, have better project turn-outs, and enjoy what you do so much more.

What Do You Think?

We'd love to hear what you think is the best way to improve professionally - is it by consistently improving your weaknesses or focusing on your natural strengths and interests? Of course, both can work to improve overall, but which do you think is more effective?

Also, what do you tend to put your focus on now? Please share if it's working or not, or perhaps if you've tried both approaches. Perhaps for one person focusing on weaknesses in order to improve to expert level is essential, while for others strengths are a more important asset. Which is it for you?

Conclusion

Focusing on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses, can have many benefits overall. You already have an advantage with your strengths, so it's important not to neglect them. Unfortunately, that is what many do. They neglect their talents and what they love doing just to improve upon their weaknesses, even if that means doing what they're not interested in.

By building your strengths, you as a professional can improve overall much faster, and improve your confidence as well. Doing the things you love and being praised for the work you do can be much more satisfying than wasting your energy to become mediocre and something with little to no recognition. Acknowledge your weaknesses every now and then, but don't obsess over them. Instead, spend most of your time building on your natural talents in order to succeed!

Kayla Knight is freelance web designer and developer with several years of experience. In her spare time she enjoys the busy college life, and writes for some top design blogs.