The best advice I ever received came from my dad, Don Clifton. It was actually a piece of simple, yet profound wisdom that has shaped my life. “Your weaknesses will never develop,” he told me, “while your strengths will develop infinitely.”
If he hadn’t taught me this, my development and achievements would have stopped at a very early age — in college, probably.
I couldn’t concentrate in college and flunked or barely passed a lot of easy courses. Later in life, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, which made sense, particularly when thinking back to my college classes. Those classes were disorienting — I just had no idea what the professor or the students were talking about.
Dad, who taught educational psychology at the University of Nebraska, figured out that my extreme weaknesses in classroom learning would never really develop, and that I would not follow in his footsteps as an educator. But he recognized that my strengths might allow me to succeed in sales, so he pointed me in that direction. Almost immediately, I succeeded at selling western record albums, history tapes of the old West, and advertising for farm and ranch directories.
Eventually, my best friend and I borrowed $5,000 and started a business selling market-research surveys. This was perfect, because the two things that inspired me most in a job were salesmanship and ideas. (I still love ideas, even bad ones.) Selling a wide variety of polls and surveys, mostly on the subject of customers, was a dream come true.
My work today has never really changed from that time — it’s still predominantly about sales and ideas. I am forever indebted to Dad for the best advice I’ve ever received. So are millions of others.
Dr. Donald O. Clifton died a decade ago. He advised people all around the globe to build their work and lives around their strengths, rather than only trying to “fix” their weaknesses. His legacy is his late-life invention, the Clifton StrengthsFinder. This online assessment uncovers users’ top five strengths out of a total of 34 — such as Achiever, Communication, Learner, Strategic, and others — allowing users the potential to soar with their strengths.
It’s impossible to go anywhere in the world, from New York to Nairobi to New Delhi, without someone asking me about StrengthsFinder. Many of the world’s most influential leaders and organizations use it for their employees and students. If you haven’t already, I urge you to discover your own strengths and then build your whole personal development plan around them.
You’ll be in good company. Some of the most successful people I’ve ever known achieved what they did because they built their careers around their strengths, not their weaknesses.
As an example, our late founder, Dr. George Gallup, knew he’d never become a super-successful businessman. He once told me that he couldn’t even run a popcorn stand, and he was proud of this. But what Dr. Gallup could do was teach, and he focused all of his energies on that. He was so good at it, such a natural, that many leaders around the world who knew him have told me he was the greatest teacher of his time.
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