How to Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

What are you good at?

That’s a question we all want to know about ourselves, as well as the question that occasionally comes after it: What aren’t you good at?

If you don’t know how to answer those questions about yourself, keep reading—I’ll help you come to a better knowledge of yourself.

When I was 14, I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. My older brother had purchased a home gym, but there was one problem neatly expressed in three words: “Some assembly required.”

After a few hours of working together with very little to show for it, my brother huffed off, cursing under his breath and leaving me alone with the sheet of assembly instructions. Little by little, I worked through each step until later that night, the gym stood ready for action.

That day I learned that I had an ability that my brother didn’t have at the time, and it meant I had something of value to offer.

If you’re thinking about starting a business, identifying your strengths and your weaknesses isn’t just an exercise to make you feel good (or bad) about yourself. It’s a process that will allow you to understand how you can be most effective at what you do, and where you’ll need to improve if you want to be successful.

In this article, I’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. To do so, I’ll walk you through creating some lists, talking to people you trust, taking a personality test, and trying new things.

  1. First, create two lists
    Before you use any outside sources to help identify your strengths and weaknesses, I’d recommend that you spend about 30 minutes alone creating two lists.

Your first list is going to be centered on your business or entrepreneurship goals. Call it something like, “Skills Needed to Succeed.”

Don’t worry about whether you’ve thought of every possible skill required for your business to succeed. This is meant to be an overview, and is fairly general. Depending on your business, it might list things like, “an understanding of the market,” “business development,” “website development,” or “product expertise.” Once you’ve completed your list, highlight the skills that you already have, and put a star next to the ones you think you’ll need to develop. Then, set this list aside—you’ll come back to it later.

The next list you’re going to create requires you to be completely honest about yourself. You can create two columns, one called “Strengths” and the other called “Weaknesses.”

Depending on your personality, you’ll find one of these columns a lot easier to fill out. I can only encourage you by suggesting that you do your best to be objective. Don’t beat yourself up over what you think are major flaws, and don’t overestimate how great your strengths are. Just write them down, and move on.

You also don’t need to have a comprehensive list of 100 strengths and weaknesses. If you’ve included more than 10-15 items in each column, then you’re probably starting to focus too much on strengths and weaknesses that aren’t that significant.

Examples of what you might add to this list range from aspects of your character, like “calm under pressure” or “achievement-driven,” to technical skills you may have, like “HTML expertise” or “project management experience.”

The purpose of this list will be to start off with some general ideas that you have about yourself, and then get input from other sources to help you refine your list.

To help you think about what to include in your strengths and weaknesses, try asking yourself questions like:

What am I good at?
What have others complimented me about?
What have others had to help me with on more than one occasion?
Which projects and tasks seem to drain my energy?
Which projects have I spent hours on without getting tired?
What are my hobbies, and why do I like doing them?
After you’ve spent some time honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to get input from those closest to you: a significant other, your mentor, close friends, or family members.

  1. Talk to people you trust
    The problem with using a list of strengths and weaknesses that only you’ve completed is that you have a biased opinion of yourself. Most people think too highly of themselves, or too little of themselves.

If you’re like me, then you somehow manage to do both at the same time. We all need some kind of “sounding board” to help us gain clarity and get closer to the truth about ourselves. That’s where other people come in handy.

Try thinking of three to five people whose opinions you trust, and who have had the chance to live or work with you for an extended period of time. You want people who have observed your behavior and character in a number of different situations. For most people, that group will include a significant other, perhaps a mentor or advisor, a best friend, one or more siblings, or your parent(s).

The length of your relationships isn’t the only thing to consider. The most important thing is whether or not you value or trust their opinion of you. Some friends and family members will be too biased—they either think everything you do is amazing, or their opinions have been hurtful and destructive in the past. Carefully select people who have a good track record of being balanced and helpful, even when they’ve needed to tell you something that you didn’t want to hear.

Once you’ve got a group of people selected, reach out to them. You can go out to coffee with each of them, or simply send an email with some questions and ask for their honest feedback.

When you reach out to them, make sure you give some context as to why you’re asking for their opinion. Tell them that you want to start a business, and that in order to be successful, you’re trying to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Ask them what it is about you that they think will contribute to your success. Then, ask them to tell you the weaknesses you have that may cause you to fail.

As you receive feedback, start adding more details to your two lists. You’ll start to see that some of the strengths and weaknesses you listed are confirmed by those you trust, while others that you listed aren’t as significant to the people who have spent time with you.

Refine your lists.

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