A Formula for Thriving at Work

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“I made myself into someone else just to love you.”

You can guess from that line from the song “Small-Town Hypocrite” by Caylee Hammack that things aren’t going to end well. They hardly ever do when we try to be something we’re not. That’s true whether we do it in a relationship or at work.

A Little Common Sense

One of the biggest mistakes people make in their careers is choosing a job based on salary, benefits, or prestige. Those are hygiene factors. The shine wears off quick. When it does, you’re left with the day-to-day work.

You’ll be happier and less stressed if you choose positions and opportunities where you like the work you will be doing day after day after day. You’re more likely to choose work you love if you know your strengths.

You Must Know Your Strengths

Peter Drucker suggested that we ask the question “What are you good at that consistently produces desired results?” That’s work you do well and cheerfully because you use what Gallup calls your “signature strengths.”

One Gallup study reported, “The more hours per day Americans get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain.”

To start figuring out your strengths, you can ask Drucker’s question. Ask yourself. Ask your friends and people who know you well. If you prefer a more-structured approach, there are instruments such as StrengthsFinder. There are also life coaches and career coaches that can help here.

What About Weaknesses?

Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger developed the concept of a “circle of competence” to guide their investments. A circle of competence is essentially the subject area that matches your skill and expertise. Warren Buffet put his advice this way: “Know your circle of competence and stick within it. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”

Boundaries are where weaknesses start. And you must know the boundaries to make sure that your weaknesses are irrelevant and don’t become a liability. That’s important in areas that go far beyond investing.

Charlie Munger comes at the issue from a slightly different angle. Here’s what he has to say:

“You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose, and that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.”

You Must Know Where You Fit Best

Context is critical. Go where you’re appreciated. Ask yourself what companies or professions or situations value what you do well.

The knowledge that you gain along the way gets more and more valuable the longer you concentrate on the same things. You may get lucky and figure out your strengths, learn your circle of competence, and the context where you can do well early in your life. Most of us don’t. We start out doing something else. Those are the situations where we’re making ourselves into someone else. And if that’s you, it’s time to change. The sooner you find where you fit best, the better.


In love or at work, making yourself into someone else is a bad idea.

You will be happier and less stressed if you choose positions and opportunities where you enjoy the everyday work.

Know your strengths. What are you good at?

Know your circle of competence and stay within it.

Go where you are appreciated.

If you are “making yourself into someone else,” it’s time to change.

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