Making your personal strengths work for you

What We Do Well

by Gary Foreman

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Recently I became aware of something that I'd overlooked for years. It's one of those little things that aren't earth shaking, but can make a difference in how we live our lives. It began when I noticed that we all like to do the things that we do well. I'm not a golfer, but I understand that some are better at the long drive and others excel at putting. If golfers are human (and, with the exception of golf widows, most of us think they are), then the ones who are good at driving probably enjoy going to the driving range. Those who are better at putting would rather spend time practicing that eight footer.

And, that's only natural. Success feels good. It makes our efforts seem worthwhile. Makes us feel a little superior. Gives others an opportunity to praise us. Generally it does things that feel good to us. So it's not surprising that we like spending time at the things that we do well.

The opposite is true, too. Our friendly golfer probably doesn't like practicing his puts, especially if he struggles in his short game. It's frustrating to keep trying to do something that you're not particularly good at. And it's embarrassing, too, as others see you fail repeatedly. Tough on the ego.

The natural inclination is to spend our time at the driving range. Not struggling on the practice putting green.

The same is true of our home life and finances. There are some things that we seem to do well. And other tasks are likely to cause us problems. How does that play out at home? Let's look at a couple of examples.

Some of us are very good at planning things. It just comes naturally, almost without effort. Doing a weekly menu plan is a breeze. And, planning for a vacation is something to look forward to.

Unfortunately, that's not true for everyone. Others among us struggle to plan the simplest things like what we'll have for dinner tonight. We tried creating a meal plan. It was a pain to put together and didn't work very well. We decided it was not worth the effort involved.

How about a financial example? Some of us relish the details of our finances. We enjoy checking our credit card bill each month. Keeping track of our investments is a pleasure.

But, for others, the opposite is true. Our minds numb at lists of figures. Details drive us crazy. We can't stand them, so our monthly statements stack up on a pile that we intend to go through "someday" in the future. So what can we learn from this that will make our lives and our finances better?

First, we can take advantage of the things that we do well. Our planning friend would be wise to make weekly menu plans. They'll reduce their grocery bill with a minimum of effort. In fact, the effort will feel like play, not work.

The same thing is true for our detail person. Look for opportunities to use that detail orientation to your advantage. You're a natural for comparison-shopping. Also, you'll be gifted in finding errors in your various statements and accounts.

Second, we need to make provisions for the things that we don't do well, either by getting better or finding an alternative.

Take our "planning challenged" friend for example. Doing a weekly menu plan will not come easy to him/her. They'll probably need help to do the job properly. Perhaps prepared forms or even a procedure for creating a meal plan would help. If even that's not enough, our friend might want to seek out plans that they can purchase.

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Let's move on to the person who can't stand details. Letting their statements stack up is not a wise move. They should either find a step-by-step process to walk through the statement or find someone to help.

Recognizing that you have a weakness and compensating for it is the wise move. If you're nearsighted, it's smart to get glasses or contacts. There's no reason not to do the same with your household or financial affairs.

Often you'll find that your partner complements your strengths. Use that to your advantage. There's nothing that says that the person who cooks needs to do the menu planning. A wise couple works together.

Much as we'd all like to be special, no one person is naturally gifted in all things. But, we can learn to identify where our talents are. Then learn to use them well. And, finally accommodate the things that don't come naturally to us.

Reviewed May 2017

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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