Capitalizing on Your Strengths

By: Brian Tracy

One of the qualities of superior men and women is that they are extremely self-reliant. They accept complete responsibility for themselves and everything that happens to them. They look to themselves as the source of their successes and as the main cause of their problems and difficulties. High achievers say, If its to be, its up to me. When things arent moving along as fast as they want, they ask themselves, What is it in me that is causing this problem? They refuse to make excuses or to blame people. Instead, they look for ways to overcome obstacles and to make progress.

Totally self-responsible people look upon themselves as self-employed. They see themselves as the president of their own personal services corporation. They realize that no matter who signs their paycheck, in the final analysis they work for themselves. Because they have this attitude of self-employment, they take a strategic approach to their work.

The essential element in strategic planning for a corporation or a business entity is the concept of return on equity. All business planning is aimed at organizing and reorganizing the resources of the business in such a way as to increase the financial returns to the business owners. It is to increase the quantity of output relative to the quantity of input. It is to focus on areas of high profitability and return and, simultaneously, to withdraw resources from areas of low profitability and return. Companies that do this effectively in a rapidly changing environment are the ones that survive and prosper. Companies that fail to do this form of strategic analysis are those that fall behind and often disappear.

To achieve everything you are capable of achieving as a person, you also must become a skilled strategic planner with regard to your life and work. But instead of aiming to increase your return on equity, your goal is to increase your return on energy.

Most people in America start off with little more than their ability to work. More than 80 percent of the millionaires in America started with nothing. Most people have been broke, or nearly broke, several times during their young-adult years. But the ones who eventually get ahead are those who do certain things in certain ways, and those actions set them apart from the masses. Perhaps the most important thing they do, consciously or unconsciously, is to look at themselves strategically, thinking about how they can better use themselves in the marketplace, how they can best capitalize on their strengths and abilities to increase their returns to themselves and their families.

Your most valuable financial asset is your earning ability, your ability to earn money. Properly applied to the marketplace, its like a pump. By exploiting your earning ability, you can pump tens of thousands of dollars a year into your pocket. All your knowledge, education, skills and experience contribute toward your earning ability, your ability to get results for which someone will pay good money.

And your earning ability is like farmland. If you dont take excellent care of it, if you dont fertilize it and cultivate it and water it on a regular basis, it soon loses its ability to produce the kind of harvest that you desire. Successful men and women are those who are extremely aware of the importance and value of their earning ability, and they work every day to keep it growing and current with the demands of the marketplace.

One of the greatest responsibilities in life is to identify, develop and maintain an important marketable skill. It is to become very good at doing something for which there is a strong market demand.

In corporate strategy, we call this the development of a competitive advantage. For a company, a competitive advantage is defined as an area of excellence in producing a product or service that gives the company a distinct edge over its competition.

In capitalizing on your strengths, as the president of your own personal services corporation, you also must have a clear competitive advantage. You also must have an area of excellence. You must do something that makes you different from and better than your competitors. Your ability to identify and develop this competitive advantage is the most important thing you do in the world of work. Its the key to maintaining your earning ability. Its the foundation of your financial success. Without it, youre simply a pawn in a rapidly changing environment. But with a distinct competitive advantage, based on your strengths and abilities, you can write your own ticket. You can take charge of your own life. You can always get a job. And the more distinct your competitive advantage, the more money you can earn and the more places in which you can earn it.

There are four keys to the strategic marketing of yourself and your services. These are applicable to huge companies such as General Motors, to candidates running for election and to individuals who want to accomplish the very most in the very shortest time. The first of these four keys is specialization. No one can be all things to all people. A jack-of-all-trades also is a master of none. That career path usually leads to a dead end. Specialization is the key. Men and women who are successful have a series of general skills, but they also have one or two areas where they have developed the ability to perform in an outstanding manner.

Your decision about how, where, when and why you are going to specialize in a particular area of endeavor is perhaps the most important decision you will ever make in your career. It was well said that if you dont think about the future, you cant have one. The major reason why so many people are finding their jobs eliminated and finding themselves unemployed for long periods of time is because they didnt look down the road of life far enough and prepare themselves well enough for the time when their current jobs would expire. They suddenly found themselves out of gas on a lonely road, facing a long walk back to regular and well-paying employment. Dont let this happen to you.

In determining your area of specialization, put your current job aside for the moment, and take the time to look deeply into yourself. Analyze yourself from every point of view. Rise above yourself, and look at your lifetime of activities and accomplishments in determining what your area of specialization could be or should be.

And by the way, you might be doing exactly the right job for you at this moment. You already might be capitalizing on all your strengths, and your current work might be ideally suited to your likes and dislikes, to your temperament and your personality. Nevertheless, you owe it to yourself to be continually expanding the scope of your vision and looking toward the future to see where you might want to be going in the months and years ahead. Remember, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

You possess special talents and abilities that make you unique, different from anyone else who has ever lived. The odds of there being another person just like you are more than 50 billion to one. Your remarkable and unusual combination of education, experience, knowledge, problems, successes, difficulties and challenges, and your way of looking at and reacting to life, make you extraordinary. You have within you potential competencies and attributes that can enable you to accomplish virtually anything you want in life. Even if you lived for another 100 years, it would not be enough time for you to plumb the depths of your potential. You will never be able to use more than a small part of your inborn abilities. Your main job is to decide which of your talents youre going to exploit and develop to their highest and best possible use right now.

So, what is your area of excellence? What are you especially good at right now? If things continue as they are, what are you likely to be good at in the future-say one or two or even five years from now? Is this a marketable skill with a growing demand, or is your field changing in such a way that you are going to have to change as well if you want to keep up with it? Looking into the future, what could be your area of excellence if you were to go to work on yourself and your abilities? What should be your area of excellence if you want to rise to the top of your field, make an excellent living and take complete control of your financial future?

When I was 22, I answered an advertisement for a copywriter for an advertising agency. As it happened, I had failed high-school English, and I really had no idea what a copywriter did. I remember the executive who interviewed me and how nice he was at pointing out that I wasnt at all qualified for the job.

But something happened to me in the course of the interview process. The more I thought about it, the more I thought how much I would like to write advertising. Having been turned down flat during my first interview, I decided to learn more about the field.

I went to the city library and began to check out and read books on advertising and copywriting. Over the next six months, while I worked in a department store, I spent many hours devouring them. At the same time, I applied for copywriting jobs to advertising agencies in the city. I started with the small agencies first. When they turned me down, I asked them why they did so. What was wrong with my application? What did I need to learn more about? What books would they recommend? And to this day, I remember that virtually everyone I spoke with was helpful to me.

By the end of six months, I had read every book on advertising and copywriting in the library and applied to every agency in the city, working up from the smallest agency to the very largest in the country. And by the time I had reached that level, I was ready. I was offered jobs as a junior copywriter by both the number-one and number-two agencies in the country. I took the job with the number-one agency and was very successful in a short period of time.

The point of this story is that you can become almost anything you need to become, in order to accomplish almost anything you want to accomplish, if you simply decide what it is and then learn what you need to learn. This is such an obvious fact that most people miss it completely.

Some years later, I decided that I wanted to get into real-estate development. Again, I went to the library and began checking out and reading all the books on real-estate development. At the time, I had no money, no contacts and no knowledge of the industry. But I knew the great secret: I could learn what I needed to learn so that I could do what I wanted to do.

Within 12 months, I had tied up a piece of property with a $100 deposit and a 30-day option. I put together a proposal for a shopping center, and I tentatively arranged for major anchor tenants and several minor tenants that together took up 85 percent of the square footage I had proposed. Then I sold 75 percent of the entire package to a major development company in exchange for the companys putting up all the cash and providing me with the resources and people I needed to manage the construction of the shopping center and the completion of the leasing. Virtually everything that I did I had learned from books written by real-estate experts, books on the shelves of the local library.

As you might have noticed, the fields of advertising and copywriting and real-estate development are very different. But these incidents, and every business situation I have been in over the years, had one element in common. Success in each area was based on the decision, first, to specialize in that area and, second, to be extremely knowledgeable in that area so that I could do a good job.

In looking at your current and past experiences for an area of specialization, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, What activities have been most responsible for my success in life to date? How did you get from where you were to where you are today? What talents and abilities seemed to come easily to you? What things do you do well that seem to be difficult for most other people? What things do you most enjoy doing? What things do you find most intrinsically motivating? What things make you happy when you are doing them?

In capitalizing on your strengths, your level of interest, excitement and enthusiasm about the particular job or activity is a key factor. Youll always do best and make the most money in a field that you really enjoy. It will be an area that you like to think about and talk about and read about and learn about. Successful people love what they do, and they can hardly wait to get to it each day. Doing their work makes them happy, and the happier they are, the more enthusiastically they do it, and the better they do it as well.

In capitalizing on your strengths, the second key is differentiation. You must decide what youre going to do to be not only different but also better than your competitors in the field. Remember, you have to be good in only one specific area to move ahead of the pack. And you must decide what that area should be.

The third strategic principle in capitalizing on your strengths is segmentation. You have to look at the marketplace and determine where you can best apply yourself, with your unique talents and abilities, to give yourself the highest possible return on energy expended. What customers, companies, markets, can best utilize your special talents and offer you the most in terms of financial rewards and future opportunities?

The final key to personal strategic planning is concentration. Once you have decided the area in which you are going to specialize, how you are going to differentiate yourself, and where in the marketplace you can best apply your strengths, your final job is to concentrate all of your energy on becoming excellent there. The marketplace pays extraordinary rewards only for extraordinary performance.