Strengths and Timing: Why Our Strengths Don’t Always Feel Like Strengths


January 18, 2016

5 Minute Read

(450 Words)

A flashlight is fairly pointless outside in the middle of the day.

A bag filled with $100 bills is pretty worthless alone on a deserted island.

And, a dictionary that translates German to Mongolian is useless to an English speaker in Spain.

But, just because these items are not useful to these specific people in these specific situations, it doesn’t mean that they are all together worthless.

Of course not.

A German to Mongolian dictionary would be plenty useful to someone from Frankfurt in Ulaanbaatar. A flashlight instantly becomes valuable when the sun goes down. And, who wouldn’t want a bag filled with $100s to show up in their car on the way to the bank?

Just because we don’t have a particular use for a given item in one moment, doesn’t mean we write it off for good as trash. If that were the case, we would all throw away our snow blowers, gloves, and sweaters when spring came. And then buy them all again next winter.

While that might be good for businesses, it would be insane to behave in that way.

So, when it comes to objects we all have a clear sense that there is an appropriate time and place for each of them. And, depending on the circumstances, its specific and practical value emerges, ebbs, and flows. We don’t devalue the flashlight as an object because it doesn’t necessarily serve a specific function all the time.

Our strengths function according to this principle, too. We might not always be able to use all of our strengths at full volume in every situation all the time. No way.

But, learning when and where to use our strengths is as important as learning when and where to use a bullhorn or a hammer or a jumprope.

When used in the right places at the right time, our strengths can make us superhuman. And, knowing when and where and how much to engage them is an art. One that we learn through trial and error and by consciously developing a strengths mindset.

While we cannot necessarily turn our strengths on or off, we can develop an awareness of when, where, and how we can best serve a given situation and then throttle our contributions up or down accordingly.

This exercise allows us to practice the principles of listening to others and observing the world around us, which creates a spirit of teachability and resourcefulness.

When we try to impose our strengths on others as the only way, not only are we denying those others their strengths, but we are also denying ourselves the gifts of what others’ strengths can teach us.

Three Questions

When was a time that I was in the right place at the right time?

What are five words that describe my “zone”?

What is more important when meeting someone new: listening or talking?

5 Minute Action

Take Five Minutes to Eat One Square of Chocolate

Find a bar of your favorite chocolate—dark, milk, with almonds, with chili peppers, etc.

Break one square off.

Set the timer on your phone.

Allow five minute to pass between the time you begin eating it and the final, last bite.

Take notes about your thoughts and your process for this action. What does your approach reveal about you? What other methods can you think of for making a square of chocolate last for five mins?

For example, did you nibble consistently or did you chomp and wait, chomp and wait? Why did you chose the method that you did? Do you operate in a similar manner elsewhere?

Was this fun, stressful, insightful, pointless, weird, enlightening? Why or why not?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Circle Photo

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world. He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Strengths Consultant.

Connect with him:


Twitter: @zstrengthslife

Facebook: Zachary Carlsen

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