The best career advice I've received

Why it's crucial to double down on your strengths

Here’s the best career advice I’ve received in my past 2.5 years as a working professional: double down on your strengths.

One of my mentors (hi Lane! 🤩) gave me this advice when I first joined LinkedIn for my first full-time job out of college, but I wasn’t able to truly internalized his point until recently.

Given that I come from a culture where strengths weren’t celebrated as much as shortcomings were criticized, embracing this mindset shift of focusing on strengths rather than overcorrecting for shortcomings was, for lack of a better word, truly transformative.

Sharing below my quick thoughts below on why it’s so important to hone in on your strengths as well as some caveats for when this adage may not be as applicable.


Why it’s crucial to double down on your strengths

Your brand is built around where you spike

The world rewards you for the few things you excel at, not for the dozens of things you’re competent at. Lane brought this to light for me in the context of performance reviews. When senior leaders gather to discuss junior staff promotions, someone’s competence across every performance evaluation dimension isn’t what moves the needle. Rather, “spikes”, or select areas (e.g. executive presence, stakeholder management, analytical prowess) in which an individual is particularly strong, are what make a difference. The remaining dimensions are more “check-the-box” than anything.

A personal story here — I’m pretty proficient at SQL, but I’ve never been an analytical whiz. When I first started my full-time job, I was incredibly anxious about not being “technical” or “analytical” enough because I couldn’t whip out performant code without referencing Google every five minutes. It took me a while to internalize Lane’s advice and realize that though I was most self-conscious about my perceived weakness in technical competency, I didn’t really need to be an expert in writing SQL code to be great at my job. Instead, I could lean into my natural spikes — defining and executing against vision by creating clarity in chaos — but have good enough technical chops such that it would never be held against me.

The canonical Pareto principle sums this idea up well — if 80% of your results will be driven by 20% of your efforts, why not create outsized leverage for yourself by identifying and doubling down on that 20%?

You’re able to go farther together in team settings

Recognizing and leaning into your strengths is table-stake in settings where significant teamwork is involved. When you understand and subsequently focus on delivering against your strengths, you’re able to unlock capacity for other team members to lean into their strengths (which are ideally complementary to your own).

Though doubling down on strengths is key when you’re slotted into a preexisting team, I’ve found this concept particularly salient in situations where I’ve had the opportunity to build a team. For example, for Across The Lines, my co-founder Jay, our teammate Ankita, and I have almost completely non-overlapping sets of strengths — Jay’s the big ideas dreamer, Ankita is the conscientious creative, and I’m the rational field marshal. We intentionally built out our team based on our own awareness of our individual strengths, and because of our complementary skillsets, we each compensate for what others on the team don’t excel at. We’re able to go farther together than any one of us ever could alone.

Caveat incoming — don’t ignore your weaknesses (sometimes)

There are two circumstances in which you shouldn’t ignore your weaknesses.

  1. When your weakness hampers the expression of your strengths

    Example: A good friend of mine (if you’re reading this, you’ll know who you are 😉) has a razor-sharp analytical mind. It’s definitely one of his core strengths. He’s also a goofball who loves to crack jokes — a great quality in a friend, but not so much in a junior employee who has yet to earn credibility in the workplace. His casual and jocular communication style caused his colleagues to take his analytical abilities less seriously. He has since adjusted his style, which has helped his strengths get the limelight they deserve.

  2. When your weakness isn’t outsource-able

    Example: I’m not naturally great at sales (please ask me about how I liked my retail job trying to sell handbags 😪), but it’s a muscle I’ve had to develop because I can’t outsource it. I can’t abstract away the need for salesmanship by hiring, delegating, or throwing money at it — whether it’s my capabilities, my work, or my company, I’ll always need to be the most steadfast salesperson of my own value.

TLDR

You should double down on your strengths because:

  • Your brand is built around where you spike

  • You’re able to go farther together in team settings

But you shouldn’t ignore weaknesses when:

  • Your weakness hampers the expression of your strengths

  • Your weakness isn’t outsource-able

I truly believe in this strengths-centered philosophy and can write on and on about it, but I’ll stop here for the sake of brevity. I hope this was helpful, especially if you come from a similar cultural context!